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Blinken will try to ease tensions between Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

A recent U.N. report found credible evidence that Rwanda is involved in military operations in eastern Congo. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is visiting both those countries this week and trying to ease tensions, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: A huge billboard with Blinken's picture greeted the motorcade as it wound its way through Kinshasa. The president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Felix Tshisekedi, hosted a dinner for the U.S. delegation on the banks of the Congo River, and Foreign Minister Christophe Lutundula spoke about a close partnership.

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CHRISTOPHE LUTUNDULA: (Speaking French).

KELEMEN: "During a very, very turbulent time," he said at a joint news conference. He's worried about the conflict in the east, and he wants to see Rwanda face sanctions for supporting a rebel movement known as the M23. Secretary Blinken is urging all parties to stop cooperating with M23 and other rebel groups.

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ANTONY BLINKEN: All countries have to respect their neighbors' territorial integrity. This is a proposition that we take very seriously around the world. We spend some time talking about that when it comes to Ukraine. It's equally important here.

KELEMEN: Blinken has been reluctant to specifically criticize Rwanda, his next stop. His aides say he wants to be a, quote, "reliable interlocutor." And as one aide puts it, the conflict in eastern DRC is a long-running challenge with no easy solutions. There are many other topics on Blinken's agenda, from the fight against corruption in the mining sector to the protection of one of the world's largest rainforests.

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BLINKEN: In short, what happens here is felt in many places. That's why the work that our countries do together is so important.

KELEMEN: The U.S. also wants to make sure the DRC holds credible and timely elections, expected next year. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Kinshasa.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.