The video, showing a smoking fighter jet being tended to on an airstrip, lasted all but a few seconds. On Tuesday 24 January, a beige and khaki-coloured fighter jet flew over the blue sky of eastern DRC, when suddenly, what seemed like a bolt of lightning, struck.
The Congolese Sukhoi-25 had just been the victim of a targeted shot from down below but did not crash. While the pilot was able to safely escape unscathed, the jet’s right wing did not. It burned.
Translation of tweet: The Congolese army plane was targeted by enemy fire. “For the moment our teams are on-site to collect as much information as possible, we will communicate,” says a FARDC official.
#RDC: L'avion de l'armée congolaise ciblé par un tir ennemi. "Pour le moment nos équipes sont sur place pour avoir toutes les informations possibles, nous allons communiquer", dit un responsable FARDC pic.twitter.com/Y6ryjv4pKu
— Stanis Bujakera Tshiamala (@StanysBujakera) January 24, 2023
What happened? Who gave the order? Who shot down the Congolese fighter jet? After a few moments of confusion, a tersely-authored Rwandan press release emerged from the chaos, taking responsibility for the act.
READ MORE DRC-Rwanda: Is history repeating itself?
“Today, at 5:03 PM, a Congolese Sukhoi-25 violated Rwandan airspace for the third time, with defensive measures being taken to address the matter. Rwanda calls on the DRC to put a stop to this aggression.”
This is a story that Kinshasa disputes, even now. In a press release, the authorities stressed that the Congolese aircraft was occupying Congolese airspace, did not intend to violate Rwandan airspace and that yet another attack by Rwandan forces is a deliberate act of aggression amounting to an act of war.
Kigali has twice made complaints about DRC incursions: on 7 November 2022 and again on 28 December, the first taking place when a Congolese aircraft landed on the tarmac at Rubavu Airport, roughly 10km from the DRC border, where it was not cleared to land. Kigali at the time had only taken this as a provocation that was openly regretted by Kinshasa, an event that took place just one day after the deployment of two Sukhoi-25s in the eastern DRC.
Despite attempts at Kenyan and Angolan-led mediations, the escalation between the two neighbours has continued to intensify, with relations steadily deteriorating since November 2021 alongside the new M23 offensive adding to tensions.
At present, Kinshasa accuses Kigali of supporting the rebellion, an accusation vehemently rejected by the Rwandans. The shooting of a Congolese military plane is the first military act claimed by Kigali.
Just one day before, in a press release, M23 rebels stated they could not comply with ceasefire plans because of new offensives ordered by the Congolese government, in addition to the “genocidal” Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda, FDLR (Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda) in the regions of Masisi and Rutshuru. This is the same place that, according to our sources, the Sukhoi-25 had gone to fight on 24 January.
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