KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — Congolese officials accused Rwandan soldiers of detaining a sergeant from Congo's army near the countries' shared border Sunday, a move they described as a "provocation."
The incident appeared to ratchet up tension in the border region, which was the sight of heavy fighting late last month between the Congolese army and a rebel group allegedly backed by Rwanda.
Sgt. Munanga Kafakana was detained Sunday while trying to visit family in the eastern Congo city of Goma, army spokesman Col. Olivier Hamuli said. Rwandan officials said Kafakana had crossed into Rwandan territory, but Hamuli insisted he had not.
"He had not crossed the border, but he was found in a neutral zone when the Rwandan soldiers kidnapped him," Hamuli said. "We are trying to calm the tension here at the border, because the population that alerted us to this arrest wants to go look for him on the other side of the border."
The arrest was confirmed by Rwandan military spokesman Brig. Gen. Joseph Nzabamwita, who said Kafakana was arrested inside Rwanda not far from where a shell allegedly fired by Congo's army during the fighting in late August killed a Rwandan woman and seriously wounded her 2-month-old baby.
A Rwandan immigration official in the border town of Gisenyi, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to brief the media, said Kafakana crossed into Rwanda at around 1 p.m. but was unable to produce documentation. The official said Kafakana had a machine gun and armor.
Congo's army has engaged in several rounds of heavy fighting in the border region this year with the M23 rebel group, which observers accuse Rwanda of backing despite consistent denials from Rwanda's government. As the most recent bout of fighting escalated last month, a convoy of military vehicles was seen leaving the Rwandan capital, Kigali, for the Congolese border, heightening fears the two nations, which have gone to war twice before, might be heading for another confrontation.
Congolese government spokesman Lambert Mende said Sunday that the arrest of Kafakana was "pure provocation."
"It's clear that we cannot tolerate the Rwandan army kidnapping a Congolese soldier found in the neutral zone," Mende said. "We demand that he be set free immediately and without condition."
Sheik Hassan Barame, mayor of the Rwandan border town of Rubavu, said dozens of Rwandans had been stranded in Congo after a border post was closed in response to the sergeant's arrest.
"We have learnt that dozens of Rwandans are stranded across the border and some have been detained by Congolese authorities as they went about their private affairs," Barame said.
Hamuli, the Congolese military spokesman, said there had been no official decision to close any posts along the border.
Associated Press writer Edmund Kagire contributed to this report from Kigali, Rwanda.