DR Congo deploys fighter jets against M23 rebels

DR Congo's military has deployed two war planes against M23 rebels in the conflict-torn east, provoking a rebuke Monday from neighbouring Rwanda after one jet entered the country's airspace.

Rwanda's government stated that a Sukhoi-25 aircraft from the Democratic Republic of Congo had violated its airspace on Monday morning, allegedly briefly touching down in the small central African nation.

"No military action was taken by Rwanda in response, and the jet returned to DRC," the statement added, explaining that the government had formally protested the move.

The DRC's government admitted one of its jets had "unfortunately" entered Rwandan airspace. It added that just as it is committed to its own territorial integrity, Congo has "never harboured the intention of violating that of its neighbour's".

The incident comes as tensions between the DRC and Rwanda are at their highest in years, with Kinshasa accusing Kigali of backing the resurgent M23 rebels.

A mostly Congolese Tutsi group, the M23 first leapt to prominence in 2012 when it briefly captured the main city in eastern DRC, Goma, before being driven out, and then lying dormant for years.

But the group resumed fighting in late 2021, claiming the DRC had failed to honour a pledge to integrate them into the army, among other grievances.

The rebels have won a string of victories against the Congolese army in North Kivu province in recent weeks, dramatically increasing the territory under their control.

The DRC expelled the Rwandan ambassador in response to escalating violence.

But details about the Congolese government's deployments of jets -- a new twist in the conflict -- remain unclear.

AFP journalists saw two fighter jets take off from Goma airport on Monday morning.

A resident of the settlement of Kiwanja in North Kivu, which recently fell into M23 hands, also told AFP a jet had flown overhead that morning.

The current frontlines are thought to be situated near the town of Rugari, 30 kilometres (18 miles) from Goma, and an important commercial hub of about one million people.

- Vigilance groups -

A Congolese military spokesman in Goma, Colonel Guillaume Ndjike Kaiko, the DRC will continue to fight so long as rebels occupy a "single centimetre" of its territory.

"We are being attacked and the DRC has the right to put all means at its disposal," Kaiko said.

In a national address on Thursday, DRC President Felix Tshisekedi accused Rwanda of seeking to destabilise eastern Congo to appropriate the region's mineral wealth.

He also urged youngsters to enlist in the army as well as form "vigilance groups" against the M23.

Kaiko said 3,000 people had already responded to the call in Goma.

-'Beat the rebels'-

Near a military base in the city on Monday morning, hundreds of recruits lined up in formation, with some holding dummy wooden guns.

A general told them they would undergo training before the army decides their role.

"Real Congolese must join the army, to beat the rebels," said Daniel, a 28-year-old recruit, before singing songs advocating national unity with his comrades.

A 25-year-old woman named Solange echoed a similar martial spirit.

"I want to fight against Rwanda," she said. "I give my life to the nation".

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