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Along Rwandan-Congolese Border, Human Bonds And Pangs Of War

Street Scene In Bukavu - South Kivu
Street Scene In Bukavu - South Kivu
Paul Durand

BUKAVU - During the occupation of the Congolese city of Goma by the M23 rebels last month, the nearby border with Rwanda remained open, and daily exchanges between the two central African neighbors continued as usual.

"We have no problem with the Rwandans as people. They are our brothers, our neighbors," explains a Congolese teacher working in Rwanda who continued to cross the border every day from the city of Bukavu.

"There are some Rwandans who bear a grudge against our country, but we should not generalize," adds Guy-Noël, a humanitarian activist from Bukavu. "We are and will remain neighbors forever. As there are Rwandans working here, some of our fellow citizens live and work in Rwanda. There is no need in being suspicious of one another."

"The problem is not between two peoples. Politicians should settle their disagreements," says a young man, set to cross the gate at the border with his friends to have drinks at La Petite Colline – a bar in Kamembe, Rwanda, the terrace of which is a popular spot for youths from Bukavu.

War crimes

Most of the resentment here is saved for the armed rebels of the M23 movement, who some fear might commit the same abuses that Laurent Nkunda's troops committed when they invaded the city in June 2004. The Rwanda-backed rebel forces of the Rally for Congolese Democracy led by Nkunda and opposed to President Kabila are accused of committing war crimes while occupying the city.

"The problem with the M23 is that they have taken up arms. We don’t want any new war," says a teacher from Bukavu. "We, teachers, are very unhappy. We have been ignored for many years. Shall we too take up arms to be heard?"

Here along the border, though, there is particular attention to accusations that the movement might be nothing more than the puppet of neighboring countries such as Rwanda or Uganda.

"The M23 is welcome if it is here to kick the Congolese president out, because we can’t stand him anymore," says one young unemployed graduate. "But if it is here to help Rwanda conquer our region, then we’ll be standing in their way."

Two weeks after the rebels briefly held control of the important regional hub of Goma, fear still lingers. "They withdrew from Goma but they are only 20 kilometers away now," says Kimengele Uledi, a university professor. "They could come back anytime and we might not be spared this time."

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Western Tanks To Ukraine Trigger Russian Threats — But Also Fears Of Major Counterattack

Germany and the U.S. overcame months of reluctance in the past 24 hours to commit to sending heavy combat tanks to Ukraine. Russia responded with official bluster, but others in Moscow fear that the tanks delivery could be a gamechanger on the battlefield.

Picture of recently mobilized Russian troops

Recently mobilized Russian troops getting ready to depart for service

Cameron Manley

A week of growing expectations of a coming Russian offensive was turned on its head Wednesday as Germany and the U.S. announced their intention to send heavy combat tanks to Ukraine.

The sudden show of resolve on supplying tanks — after months of reluctance, particularly from Germany — has prompted some Russians to fear that Ukraine will now be equipped for a major counterattack. That would be significant reversal after speculation had been growing this month about a Russian spring offensive.

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Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government confirmed Wednesday morning that Berlin plans to send at least 14 German-built Leopard 2 tanks to the frontline. U.S. media also reported that Joe Biden’s administration is expected to officially announce Washington's commitment, with at least 30 M1 Abrams tanks expected to be sent.

The timeline remains unclear as to when the vehicles would make it into combat. Still, both sides on the war acknowledged that it is a significant development with the potential to change the math on the battlefield.

Official Russian response was loaded with typical incendiary rhetoric. Dmitry Peskov, press secretary to Russian president Vladimir Putin, said the new tanks would "burn like all the rest, only these ones are expensive.”

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