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The M23 rebels said that they have begun pulling back from Kanyaruchinya village, which has been in the crosshairs of the fighting that erupted on Aug. 21. On Twitter, they said they were doing so in order to allow U.N. inspectors a chance to investigate the shelling of nearby towns.
Reached by telephone, M23 president Bertrand Bisimwa said that beyond the investigation, his group was declaring the ceasefire in order "to give peace a chance."
"We have decided to decree a unilateral ceasefire and we have started pulling our forces out of Kanyaruchinya in order to allow the investigation into the shelling," he told The Associated Press. "This announcement, which was made unilaterally, is meant to allow the Congolese to return to the negotiating table."
The declaration marks a significant change in tone for the M23 rebels. As recently as Wednesday, Bisimwa maintained that the rebels had the advantage and that U.N. and Congolese troops had been forced to retreat.
Congolese military spokesman Col. Olivier Hamuli said late Friday that in addition to Kanyaruchinya, Congolese and U.N. forces had succeeded in routing the M23 from Kibati, a village they had controlled, and combat was ongoing in Kibumba, around 30 kilometers (18 miles) from Goma.
"They announced (their ceasefire) when they realized that they were losing on the ground. I am just back from the frontline and they have suffered heavy losses. They have abandoned an arms depot with heavy weapons," Hamuli said. "They even abandoned a military vehicle which proves that they are quitting because if they are just retreating they should take their armaments with them."
Created in 2012, the M23 rebels succeeded in seizing and briefly holding Goma last year. That prompted the United Nations to create a special intervention brigade, which, alongside Congolese troops, has been pounding rebel positions for the past week, using combat helicopters, artillery and armored personnel carriers. The rebels' retreat suggests the weeklong offensive against the rebels might have turned a corner.
In Congo's capital, Kinshasa, government spokesman Lambert Mende said the call for a ceasefire does not go far enough.
"It's our opinion that the only interesting proposition would be to see M23 demobilized, and to see them dissolve and cease all military action. Any other proposal is unacceptable," said Mende, Congo's minister of information.
The fighting, which began on Wednesday last week, has so far claimed the lives of one U.N. peacekeeper as well as at least 10 Congolese soldiers and 14 civilians who died from the shelling on either side of the Congo-Rwanda border.
On Thursday, Rwandan officials confirmed the death of a woman in the Rwandan border district of Rubavu who died after a rocket coming from the Congolese side exploded in Rwandan territory.
Angry Rwandan officials claim the rocket was fired on purpose by Congolese troops in order to drag Rwanda into the conflict — a claim that was seen as deeply cynical by some, given the mounting evidence that the M23 rebels are in fact a Rwandan proxy force.
A recent United Nations Group of Experts report describes how Rwandan soldiers sneak across the forested border in groups of up to 30 men to join the ranks of the M23, a group which is almost entire Tutsi, the ethnic group of Rwanda's ruling class. Previous U.N. reports have described the logistical support Rwanda is providing, including night vision goggles.
Late Thursday, Rwanda's Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said on Twitter that Rwandan troops could enter Congo. She said in a Tweet that her country is not currently in Congo, and added the word "yet" in parenthesis. Earlier in the day she had said Rwanda had remained restrained "for as long as we can."
Goma, a Congolese city of 1 million located on the Rwandan border, briefly fell to the M23 rebels last year in a humiliating blow both to the Congolese military, which barely put up a fight, and the thousands of United Nations peacekeepers stationed in the region, who stood by as the rebels entered the strategic town. They said they could not intervene because their mandate only permitted them to protect civilians.
"The perception is that they didn't do a thing to stop them," said Frances Charles, the Goma-based advocacy director for the international aid group World Vision. "There are literally photos where you have U.N. peacekeepers sitting in tanks while M23 walks past."
In response, the U.N. created the new intervention brigade which is authorized to directly combat the rebels.
Rukmini Callimachi contributed to this report from Dakar, Senegal. Associated Press writer Jason Straziuso also contributed to this report from Nairobi.
DR Congo: Ban deplores killing of Tanzanian peacekeeper
New York, Aug 30 :
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has condemned the killing of a Tanzanian peacekeeper and the wounding of 10 others in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) on Wednesday during an attack against the M23 rebel group in the vast country's restive eastern province. "The Secretary-General deplores in the strongest terms the killing and wounding of UN peacekeepers," Ban's spokesperson said in a statement issued Wednesday night. "He offers his sincere condolences and sympathy to their families and to the Governments of the United Republic of Tanzania and the Republic of South Africa."The attack occurred in the Kibati heights in North Kivu as the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) supported action by Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC) to protect civilian-populated areas of Goma.The Mission has delivered mortar and artillery fire and engaged its attack helicopters, while the FARDC has used attack helicopters, battle tanks and ground forces. The operation is still ongoing."The United Nations remains committed to taking all necessary actions in line with Security Council resolution 2098 (2013) to protect civilians in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo," the statement read.Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of MONUSCO, Martin Kobler, also expressed his outrage by the killing of the peacekeeper. "He sacrificed his life to protect civilians in Goma. My thoughts go to his family and all members of his unit in this very difficult moment," he said.Over the past year, the M23, along with other armed groups, have clashed repeatedly with the FARDC. The rebels briefly occupied Goma in November 2012. The fighting resumed in recent weeks, this time dragging in a group of Ugandan-based rebels, and displaced more than 100,000 people, exacerbating the region's ongoing humanitarian crisis, which includes 2.6 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and 6.4 million in need of food and emergency aid.On 28 March this year the Security Council authorized the establishment of the intervention brigade to carry out targeted offensive operations, with or without the FARDC, against armed groups that threaten peace in eastern DRC. At the same time the Security Council called on the M23 to cease immediately all forms of violence and destabilizing activities and for its members to immediately and permanently disband and lay down their arms.The strengthening of the MONUSCO mandate with the intervention brigade is designed to further support the political objectives of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the DRC and the region - a peace deal signed in February in Addis Ababa,
Ethiopia. --IBNS (Posted on 30-08-2013 - See more at:
By Jonny Hogg and Louis Charbonneau
GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) - In lawless eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, a new U.N. force is trying a different strategy for keeping the peace: going on the attack.
The Force Intervention Brigade has in recent days seen its first real action in an operation to keep rebels away from the city of Goma, near Congo's border with Rwanda. On Wednesday, one Tanzanian peacekeeper was killed and three other brigade members injured.
Created by the U.N. Security Council earlier this year, the unit represents an aggressive step up for U.N. peacekeeping operations in the region, which for years have been criticised for inaction and failing to protect civilians.
In the past, in Congo and elsewhere, peacekeeping missions usually saw U.N. troops use force only in self-defence or to protect non-combatants. The new 3,000-strong brigade has a specific mandate for "targeted offensive operations" to "neutralise" and disarm rebel groups. Part of MONUSCO, the existing U.N. peacekeeping mission with 20,000 personnel spread across the vast central African state, the brigade is made up of contingents from South Africa, Tanzania and Malawi.
But will the new troops help or hinder efforts to bring peace?
On the streets of Goma, a trading hub on Lake Kivu, many people are angry with the existing mission for not doing enough to protect them from either the Congolese army or insurgent and militia groups that prey on civilians, raping, looting and killing.
"If MONUSCO does nothing, we'll take up our machetes and chase them out. If they don't tackle the rebels, we'll do something to them," motorcycle taxi driver Bienvenu Musoka told Reuters as a crowd jostled and heckled outside a meeting calling for protests against the new brigade.
As white armoured vehicles lumbered through Goma's dilapidated streets on a recent U.N. patrol, a voice crackled over the radio warning troops to "watch out for stone-throwing, guys." The blue-helmeted soldiers were greeted by hostile stares and gestures from local inhabitants.
The disillusion is not hard to fathom. Rights groups point to a number of massacres and abuses of civilians in eastern Congo over the last decade even though armed U.N. peacekeepers were in nearby bases. When well-armed fighters from a rebel group known as M23 swept into Goma in November after routing Congolese government forces, Indian and South African U.N. troops did not stop them. M23 eventually withdrew under international pressure, but the debacle fueled resentment among residents.
Locals want the new force to be much tougher.
"We want MONUSCO and the brigade to react. Ban Ki-moon (the U.N. Secretary-General) consoles us, tells us to wait whilst they formulate a strategy. That's because it's not his wife being raped, not his children who are dying," said Willy Mulumba, a small trader in one of Goma's chaotic markets.
That history means the new U.N. brigade starts operations facing a risky dilemma.
"If it fails (to bring peace) there will be a backlash, and that's going to be bad for Congo, and will discredit the U.N.," said Thierry Vircoulon, project director for International Crisis Group in Central Africa.
But if it imposes peace by force it risks stoking underlying tensions.
"With this offensive mandate MONUSCO is, even more than it was before, a party to the conflict," Said Tariq Riebl, Oxfam's humanitarian co-ordinator in Goma.
CRUCIBLE OF CONFLICT
Eastern Congo has long been one of Africa's bloodiest battle fields. The roots of its current conflict lie in the 1994 genocide in neighbouring Rwanda, where Hutu soldiers and militia killed 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
Tutsi rebels led by Paul Kagame toppled the Hutu government and sent those responsible for the genocide fleeing into eastern Congo along with two million Hutu refugees. Kagame became Rwanda's president and pursued the "genocidaires", many of whom remain in Congo and fight as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).
Two civil wars have ensued, both launched from the east with Rwandan involvement. The second, from 1998 to 2003, spawned a plethora of armed groups pitted against a corrupt Congolese army. Humanitarian agencies estimate more than five million people have died in the violence since 1998, despite the presence for most of that time of a U.N. peacekeeping force.
From a small group of military observers deployed in 1999, the U.N. presence morphed into a full-fledged peacekeeping mission. In the early days, its mandates - the rules under which its peacekeepers are deployed - were more defensive than offensive. Blue-helmets had to protect U.N. and other personnel and civilians "under imminent threat of physical violence."
The mission has sometimes hurt itself. In the past, U.N. troops have been accused of sexual misconduct and smuggling arms and gold. The U.N. says these cases have been investigated and dealt with. As well, soldiers from Congo's army, which the U.N. is backing, have been accused of raping and killing civilians. The U.N. has threatened to halt cooperation with some Congolese units because of this.
On occasion, the U.N. has taken a more offensive approach to the rebels. After heavy fighting in 2003 between rival ethnic militias in northeast Ituri district, the Security Council authorised France to deploy a mostly French 1,400-strong combat force to protect residents there. Two years later, also in Ituri, Pakistani peacekeepers killed 50 militiamen days after nine Bangladeshi blue-helmets were killed in an ambush.
In 2006, Indian U.N. troops used helicopter gunships, heavy weapons and armoured vehicles to kill dozens of advancing Tutsi rebels near Sake, north of Goma. A Congo army officer put the rebel deaths in that clash at 150.
In general, though, in Congo and elsewhere, the U.N. has been wary of "peace enforcement" ever since its involvement in Somalia in the 1990s. Appetite for proactive intervention withered after the 1993 "Black Hawk Down" incident when militia fighters shot down U.S. helicopters in Mogadishu, and killed 18 U.S. soldiers in the ensuing battle.
"A STRONG REQUEST FROM THE AFRICANS"
One reason for the new approach in Congo is the rise of the M23 rebel group, which emerged last year when former rebel fighters, who had been integrated into the Congolese army, mutinied. The group takes its name from a March 23, 2009 peace deal that ended a previous revolt.
M23 accuse Congo's government and army of failing to honour that peace pact, and of tolerating and collaborating with the Hutu FDLR fighters who they view as mortal enemies.
U.N. experts have reported that the group is backed and supplied by Rwanda. M23 and the Rwandan government fiercely reject those accusations.
The surprise capture of Goma by M23 last year left the U.N. fending off charges that its troops stood idly by. The incident increased diplomatic pressure from a number of African capitals, in particular Kinshasa, to get a new, tougher brigade approved by the U.N. Security Council.
"It was really a strong request from the Africans," a senior Western diplomat said.
But some Western powers in the Security Council feared the deployment might worsen rather than solve the violence.
"France, U.S. and UK were very sceptical," the diplomat said. "We had the impression that it would add violence to violence, that it was not 3,000 soldiers who were going to change the balance and solve the issues."
A senior U.N. official in New York confirmed the internal discussion. "The Intervention Brigade is very controversial and not everyone is sold on it," the official said.
Even as it beefed up its military power, the U.N. threw its weight behind peace talks; A U.N.-mediated peace deal was signed in February by 11 regional states, including Congo and Rwanda. But separate direct talks between M23 and Congo's government in the Ugandan capital Kampala have made little progress.
Some say negotiations may have been undermined by the new U.N. military force. "The U.N. is stuck between its aggressive mandate and peace talks, leading to a somewhat schizophrenic policy," Congo expert Jason Stearns wrote this month on his Congo Siasa blog.
Axel Queval, MONUSCO's acting head in North Kivu province, where Goma is located, sees the brigade working in tandem with political negotiations.
"The door for negotiations is always open, but if the negotiations can't work, then of course the brigade is here to put pressure on. It's a little bit of the carrot and the stick," Queval said.
Congolese authorities want the brigade to act - and fast. "My advice to the United Nations would be to move more quickly. The resolution which was voted mustn't just remain a bit of paper," said Julien Paluku, governor of North Kivu. "I think we must finish with M23, with FDLR militarily ... This is the first time the U.N. has created an offensive brigade for peacekeeping. If it fails, it's going to be bad for them."
The U.N. resolution behind the brigade foresees three infantry battalions, one artillery group and one special force and reconnaissance company under the direct command of the MONUSCO force commander.
But U.N. officials admit the brigade's deployment is still only two thirds complete. The Malawians have not yet arrived and the South African and Tanzanian contingents do not have all their equipment yet.
Wednesday's deadly skirmish has raised questions about whether the U.N. unit has the force, firepower and equipment to carry out its mandate. This is especially sensitive in South Africa, which in March saw 15 of its soldiers killed in Central African Republic during a rebel takeover there.
"The force is too small, it's not mobile enough," South African defence and military analyst Helmoed Romer Heitman told Reuters of the new brigade. South Africa's National Defence Union (SANDU), which represents military personnel, issued a statement after this week's fighting expressing concern that South African troops are backed not by their own air force's Rooivalk (Red Kestrel) attack helicopters but by the U.N.'s Ukrainian-piloted Mi-24 gunships. The Rooivalks are due to arrive in Congo in October.
ATROCITIES AND MASSACRES
The newly appointed commander for MONUSCO is Brazilian Lieutenant General Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz, whose previous U.N. experience involved fighting criminal gangs in the slums of Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince. He recognises that his troops face a credibility test in Congo.
"We are supposed to have courage and take action, but sometimes the inaction is absolute," he told international NGOs at a meeting in July, according to minutes taken by one group present. "We must be accountable (for) it."
Dos Santos Cruz was unavailable for an interview.
Oxfam's Riebl said that even as the new brigade is being deployed, militias and warlords have been attacking local communities without the U.N. intervening. The town of Pinga, in the mineral-rich highlands of North Kivu, has changed hands between rival militias at least eight times since last year, he said. Medical charity Doctors Without Borders was forced to suspend its acitivies in Pinga this month because of violence and after direct threats to staff.
"We've seen atrocities and massacres committed, people being decapitated ... we're definitely talking about hundreds in the last few months. All of this has happened in a town where there is a U.N. base, which has been there permanently," Riebl said.
As the brigade steps up its operations, they will face a battle-hardened enemy.
On the road north from Goma, the final Congolese army checkpoints are followed by kilometres of deserted villages before a rebel roadblock marks the edge of M23's zone of control.
M23 leaders believe they hold the upper hand in the rugged hilly terrain they know so well. At M23's headquarters along the Congo-Uganda border, M23 President Bertrand Bisimwa told Reuters a U.N. offensive would be a "mistake". Wearing a crisp khaki suit and cowboy hat, and surrounded by fighters in camouflage and gumboots, Bisimwa said his forces would fight back.
Rwanda has also pushed back against the U.N. brigade, alleging U.N. commanders discussed "collaboration" with Hutu FDLR rebels. The U.N. has asked Rwanda for proof of this claim, which Kigali has not provided.
The M23 rebels say their soldiers are more than a match for the untested U.N. Intervention Brigade. "The Tanzanians are the toughest. But kill five South Africans and they'll pack up and go home," one rebel leader said derisively.
As a recent convoy rumbled past tumbledown shacks in Goma, a South African soldier in full battle gear summed up the feeling inside the brigade: "If (the Congolese) can find a political solution, that'll be good for us, and good for them. If not, we'll do what we've prepared to do."
Bosco Ntaganda In Custody At International Criminal Court In The Hague
THE HAGUE, Netherlands — African warlord Bosco Ntaganda was taken from the U.S. Embassy in Rwanda on Friday and flown to International Criminal Court in The Hague, where he faces charges including murder, rape and persecution in a rebel group's deadly reign of terror that gripped eastern Congo a decade ago.
Ntaganda arrived and was taken to a cell shortly before midnight Friday, nearly seven years after he was first indicted. His transfer was hailed as a crucial step in bringing to justice one of Africa's most notorious warlords. It was also a welcome relief to a court that earlier this week dropped charges against a senior Kenyan suspect for lack of evidence and late last year acquitted another rebel leader accused of atrocities in Congo.
Nicknamed "The Terminator" because of his reputation for ruthlessness in battle, Ntaganda became a symbol of impunity in Africa, at times playing tennis in eastern Congo, apparently without fear of arrest.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called the transfer "an important moment for all who believe in justice and accountability.
"For nearly seven years, Ntaganda was a fugitive from justice, evading accountability for alleged violations of international humanitarian law and mass atrocities against innocent civilians, including rape, murder, and the forced recruitment of thousands of Congolese children as soldiers," Kerry said in a statement. "Now there is hope that justice will be done."
The White House said the transfer marked a major step toward ending a cycle of impunity. National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said the U.S. hopes it will build momentum for an agreement to deal with the region's economic, political and security problems.
Despite his 2006 ICC indictment, Ntaganda joined the Congolese army in 2009 as a general following a peace deal that paved the way for him and his men to be integrated into the military. He was allowed to live freely in the provincial capital of Goma, where he also dined at top restaurants.
Last year, however, the agreement between the former warlord and the Congolese government disintegrated, and he and his troops defected, becoming known as M23 and battling Congolese government troops in the country's mineral-rich east.
Ntaganda is believed to have turned himself in after becoming vulnerable when his M23 rebel group split into two camps last month over the decision to bow to international pressure and withdraw from Goma late last year. Ntaganda and another rebel leader, Jean-Marie Runiga, had opposed any pullout, but a rebel general, Sultani Makenga, ordered a retreat and initiated peace talks with the Congo government.
A United Nation panel of experts last year said that both Rwanda and Uganda commanded and supported M23. Both countries deny the charge.
Ntaganda was turned over to ICC staff in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, where he gave himself up at the U.S. Embassy on Monday. He is the first indicted suspect to voluntarily surrender to the court's custody.
The court's prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, welcomed his transfer as a great day for victims in Congo.
"Today those who have long suffered at the hands of Bosco Ntaganda can look forward to the future and the prospect of justice secured," Bensouda said.
Ntaganda is scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday. He will first be given a medical checkup and appointed a defense attorney.
Rights groups welcomed Ntaganda's arrest.
"Ntaganda's expected trial will underscore the importance of the ICC in providing accountability for the world's worst crimes when national courts are unable or unwilling to deliver justice," said Geraldine Mattioli-Zeltner, international justice advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.
Ntaganda was first indicted in 2006 on charges of recruiting and using child soldiers. In July last year, the court issued a second arrest warrant accusing Ntaganda of murder, rape, sexual slavery, persecution and pillaging in 2002-2003 in the eastern province of Ituri. He faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment if convicted.
Prosecutors call Ntaganda the "chief of operations" of the Union of Congolese Patriots and its armed wing, the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo, known by their French acronyms UPC and FPLC. The groups waged a brutal military campaign to establish political and military domination for the Hema tribe over resource-rich Ituri, allegedly killing some 800 people in a few months.
According to court documents, his rebels used the same tactics in each village they attacked – surrounding the settlement and shelling it before going house-to-house to slaughter survivors with guns, machetes, spears and knives. The fighters allegedly raped women and abducted them to turn into sex slaves during the attacks.
Prosecutors say Ntaganda "planned and commanded scores of coordinated military attacks against the Lendu and other non-Hema tribes."
The former leader of the UPC/FPLC, Thomas Lubanga, last year became the first person convicted in the International Criminal Court's 10-year history. He was found guilty of recruiting and using child soldiers in fighting in Ituri and sentenced to 14 years imprisonment. He has appealed his conviction.
The alleged leader of a Lendu tribe militia in Ituri, Mathieu Ngudjolo, was acquitted in December of atrocities in Ituri.
While getting Ntaganda to The Hague is a significant step for the court, several of its highest-profile suspects remain at large, including Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who has been indicted for genocide in Darfur province, and Joseph Kony, leader of the shadowy Ugandan rebel movement the Lord's Resistance Army.
"As we welcome progress in one case, others also subject to ICC warrants in the region remain at large," Bensouda said. The international court has no police force and relies on cooperation of states to arrest and transfer suspects.
Associated Press writers Jason Straziuso and Edmund Kagire in Kigali, Rwanda, and Josh Lederman in Washington contributed to this story.