DR Congo should file complaint against Rwanda with ICJ, says Belgian envoy

Thousands more flee rebel advance in eastern Congo

By Djaffar Al Katanty and Erikas Mwisi Kambale

GOMA/BUNIA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) -Democratic Republic of Congo should file a complaint with the International Court of Justice over Rwanda's failure to respect its border, Belgium's ambassador to Congo said on Friday at a meeting to assess the deepening crisis in eastern Congo.

Congo has been struggling to push back M23 rebels since they launched a comeback offensive in the already restive east in 2022. The fighting has displaced 738,000 more people in the first three months of this year alone, according to the U.N. aid agency OCHA.

The Congolese government, U.N. officials and Western powers including the United States and Belgium have accused Rwanda of providing support for M23 - including weapons and soldiers - which Rwanda has repeatedly denied.

At a meeting of foreign envoys in the eastern city of Goma, Belgian ambassador Roxane de Bilderling said more should be done to hold Rwanda to account.

"Another way of exerting pressure is for the Congo to lodge a complaint with the International Court of Justice for failure to respect international borders," she said, referring to Rwanda.

Rwanda's army has previously accused Congo of arming and fighting alongside another rebel group, the Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).

The conflict is part of the long fallout from the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. The M23 group is ethnic Tutsi-led, while the FDLR is composed of ethnic Hutus.

Asked about de Bilderling's comment, Rwanda government spokesperson Yolande Makolo told Reuters: "DRC should take Belgium to ICJ."

United Nations experts have said they have evidence that Rwandan troops have fought alongside the M23 in eastern Congo and supplied the rebels with weapons. They also said that members of Congo's army have fought alongside the FDLR.

De Bilderling said the U.N.'s findings gave Congo the grounds to lodge a complaint, noting that her comments were only on behalf of Belgium.

The ambassadors' Goma visit was also aimed at highlighting pressing humanitarian funding needs. Aid agencies need $2.6 billion to help 8.7 million vulnerable people in Congo this year, according to OCHA.

Many of those in need are in neighbouring Ituri province, where Defence Minister Jean-Pierre Bemba met representatives of other armed groups on Friday to sign a ceasefire agreement for the conflict-torn province.

Five groups including the Cooperative for the Development of the Congo, commonly known as CODECO, signed a joint statement, promising to "undertake to cease hostilities immediately in the interests of peace" or face punishment.

Militias have made and broken similar peace pledges in the past, contributing to cycles of bloodshed that have destabilised mineral-rich eastern Congo for decades.

"The most important thing for us is peace... so that they stop harassing the population and even burning the homes of civilians in Ituri," provincial civil society leader Dieudonne Lossa told Reuters.

(Reporting by Djaffar Al Katanty, Erikas Mwisi Kambale, Ange Kasongo, and Yassin Kombi; Additional reporting by Philbert Girinema in Kigali; Writing by Sofia Christensen and Anait Miridzhanian; Editing by Alessandra Prentice and Hugh Lawson)