M23 rebels in Congo pushed back from key city, UN says
Civilians cheer and wave as United Nations armored personnel carriers drive past on their way to the front, in Munigi, just north of the provincial capital of Goma, eastern Congo, Friday, Aug. 30, 2013. Joseph Kay)
The Associated Press
UNITED NATIONS — Congolese and U.N. troops have pushed back the M23 rebel group that had been entrenched in the hills above Goma and the rebels no longer pose a threat to the strategically important city in eastern Congo, the U.N. peacekeeping chief said Thursday.
Herve Ladsous called the military action a "very significant achievement" that inflicted casualties on the M23 and likely led the rebels to resume talks with the government in neighboring Uganda's capital, Kampala.
Late last month, Congolese troops exchanged heavy fire with the M23 rebels just outside Goma. Aided by U.N. peacekeeping troops and the new U.N. intervention brigade, they pounded rebel positions with combat helicopters and reclaimed several areas that had been occupied by the M23 until the rebels unexpectedly declared a cease-fire, saying they wanted to resume talks.
As a result, Ladsous said, "the M23 group has been pushed back towards the north to such a place that it does not any more pose the direct threat that it had posed for such a long time either on the city of Goma" or surrounding camps for displaced people or U.N. positions.
The M23 is primarily made up of fighters from a now-defunct rebel group that signed a peace agreement with Congo on March 23, 2009. The deal paved the way for the rebels to join the regular Congolese military. For the next three years Congo enjoyed a relative period of calm in its troubled and lawless eastern province.
However many defected in 2012, claiming Congo had not held up its end of the bargain by failing to implement the signed agreement. Rebels invaded and briefly held Goma before retreating to positions just outside the city.
Ladsous said following the recent military action the U.N. has strengthened its positions to better defend Goma and the population which had been very critical of the U.N. force is now expressing gratitude for pushing back the M23 fighters.
The international community, bolstered by several reports by the U.N. group of experts, has accused Rwanda of backing the M23, using it as a proxy force to secure access to eastern Congo's lucrative mining trade.
Rwanda signed on to an 11-nation peace deal in February aimed at ending decades of conflict in Congo.
Ladsous said "diplomacy has become again the order of the day."
Special envoys from the U.N., the European Union, the African Union and the United States spent last week traveling around the Great Lakes region and attending a summit of the region's leaders, urging M23 leaders to halt all military action, he said.
Ladsous said there is widespread support for the resumption of talks between the M23 and the government.
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DR Congo rebels 'lick their wounds': UNSeptember 12, 2013 3:45 PM
Democratic Republic of Congo forces and UN troops have forced rebels back from a key eastern city and left them to "lick their wounds," a top UN official said Thursday.
The M23 group around Goma in eastern DR Congo suffered battlefield defeats, UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said, suggesting that this is what forced it back to peace talks with the government this week.
M23, which the United Nations says has received support from neighboring Rwanda, launched an assault on Goma last month, sparking fierce battles with government forces.
An assault by the DR Congo army, backed by UN peacekeepers and attack helicopters, forced the rebels away from Goma, the major city in the resource-rich region.
"M23 has suffered casualties" and withdrew to "lick their wounds," he told reporters after UN Security Council talks on DR Congo.
UN forces have strengthened their positions around Goma and it was "no surprise" that M23 has returned to peace talks with the government in the Ugandan capital, he added.
Mary Robinson, UN special envoy for the Great Lakes region, told the Security Council that M23 had offered to disarm if rival anti-Rwandan rebels operating in the region also laid down their arms, according to diplomats in the meeting.
Ladsous said the United Nations now hopes to start using surveillance drones over eastern DR Congo in early December. The unarmed drones will help the UN monitor the border between DR Congo and Rwanda, which denies aiding M23.
The UN has also stressed new political efforts to end decades of conflict in the region. African heads of state are to meet to discuss the DR Congo in New York on September 23 on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly leaders' summit.
Eleven African nations, including DR Congo and Rwanda, signed up to a UN-brokered declaration in February agreeing not to interfere in each other's affairs.
A Security Council statement released after Thursday's meeting expressed "concern" at the tensions in eastern DR Congo and said all signatories of the political cooperation accord had to "fulfill their commitments in good faith."