US Secretary of State Antony Blinken traveled to Congo’s capital, Kinshasa, Tuesday to continue his three-nation tour of Africa.
In Congo, he will meet with government leaders and civil society groups during his two-day visit to discuss partnerships for regional security, human rights issues, environmental conservation, climate change and bilateral trade and investment, according to the U.S. Department of State.
Blinken is expected to encourage solutions to the violence in eastern Congo where attacks have increased dramatically in the past month, with the resurgence of the M23 rebel group and ongoing violence by the many militia groups vying for control of the mineral-rich region.
The increased insecurity in eastern Congo has sparked deadly protests against the U.N. peacekeeping force there. Security has worsened in eastern Congo despite a year of emergency operations by the armies of Congo and Uganda. Civilians in the east have also faced violence from jihadi rebels linked to the Islamic State group. More than 200,000 people have been displaced by recent fighting between Congolese troops and the M23 rebels.
Congo has accused Rwanda of supporting the M23 rebels.
Blinken will travel later Wednesday to Rwanda, which is rejecting a report by United Nations experts saying they have “solid evidence” that members of Rwanda’s armed forces are conducting operations in eastern Congo in support of the M23 rebel group.
Rwanda accuses Congo of collaborating with another rebel group, the FDLR, and said regional security can’t be achieved until that issue is addressed. The FDLR was created by ethnic Hutus who fled Rwanda during the country’s 1994 genocide that killed at least 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Congo has denied supporting the group.
Relations between Congo and its smaller neighbor Rwanda have been fraught for decades. Rwanda alleges that Congo gave refuge to Hutus who carried out the genocide. In the late 1990s, Rwanda twice sent its forces deep into Congo, joining forces with Congolese rebel leader Laurent Kabila to depose the country’s longtime dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.
A meeting between Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi in Angola on July 6 produced a statement calling for a return to normal diplomatic relations, a cessation of hostilities, and the “immediate and unconditional withdrawal” of the M23 from its positions in eastern Congo.
Earlier Tuesday Blinken met with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and International Relations Minister Naledi Pandor for brief talks and to mark the country’s Women’s Day holiday.
The cordial meeting did not mask the differences between the U.S. and South Africa over Russia’s war in Ukraine. South Africa has remained neutral on the war and refused to criticize Russia for its invasion of Ukraine or conduct in the conflict.
While in South Africa Blinken launched the United States’ new strategy for engaging with the countries of sub-Saharan Africa.
Outlining the strategy in a speech in Pretoria on Monday, he said it was rooted in recognizing sub-Saharan countries as equal partners and emphasized the region’s role as a “major geopolitical force.”
On his Africa tour, human rights groups have urged Blinken to promote free and fair elections, respect for human rights and anti-corruption efforts.
His visit to Africa is seen by many as part of the contest between the Western powers and Russia for influence in Africa amid the ongoing war in Ukraine.