Rwanda shoots at Congolese military jet over alleged airspace violation


KIGALI, Jan 24 (Reuters) – Rwandan forces on Tuesday fired at a fighter jet from Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) that it said had violated its airspace, prompting the Congolese government to accuse it of an act of war.

A video shared widely on Congolese social media showed a projectile shooting towards an airborne military plane, before exploding in the air near the plane, which continued to fly. Reuters could not immediately verify the video.

Congo denied Rwanda’s accusation that the jet had been in Rwandan airspace – the latest dispute between the two countries whose relationship has been strained by a rebel insurgency.

“The Rwandan shots were directed towards a Congolese aircraft flying within Congolese territory,” it said in a statement, confirming the plane had landed in the provincial capital Goma without suffering major damage.

It described Rwanda’s move as a “deliberate act of aggression that amounts to an act of war” aimed at undermining a peace agreement to end an offensive by the M23 rebel group.

Earlier the Rwandan government said Rwandan forces had fired at the jet after it violated Rwandan airspace in Rubavu – the same area as previous alleged violations, “prompting the government to take defensive measures.”

“Rwanda asks the DRC to stop this aggression,” government spokesperson Yolande Makolo said in a statement.

Congo, United Nations experts and Western powers have accused Rwanda of backing the M23 in eastern Congo, which seized several towns and villages in renewed fighting last year. Rwanda has denied any involvement.

Regional leaders brokered an agreement in November under which the Tutsi-led group was meant to withdraw from recently seized positions by Jan. 15 as part of efforts to end the fighting that has displaced at least 450,000 people.

Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi said last week that the rebels had not fully withdrawn from those areas.

In December, Rwanda said another fighter jet from Congo had briefly violated its air space.

An unarmed Congolese warplane also briefly landed at a Rwandan airport in November while on a reconnaissance mission near the border, in what Congo said was an accident.

Reporting by Nairobi Newsroom, Djaffar Al Katanty in Goma and Stanys Bujakera; Writing by Bhargav Acharya and Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Nellie Peyton, Bill Berkrot and Daniel Wallis

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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