Rwandan invasion of DR Congo feared
September 12, 2013
1 hour ago
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."
M23 rebels to withdraw after Congo Army, UN assault
M23 withdrew from the town of Kanyaruchinya to allow for an inquiry into the source of mortar fire that killed civilians and a U.N. peacekeeper during fighting that began Aug. 21, Kingston said by phone from the rebel stronghold of Bunagana Friday. Congo and the U.N. blame M23 for the rocket fire, while neighboring Rwanda, which says 34 rockets have fallen on its territory in the past week, and the M23 blame Congo's army.
"We didn't withdraw because we are short of ammunition or they pushed us back," Kingston said. "We've withdrawn from our positions from Kanyaruchinya for an independent inquiry to take place."
The U.N. and Congolese army have been pounding rebel positions in the hills around Kibati, 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) north of Goma, with artillery and attack helicopters. Peacekeepers have been trying to dislodge the rebels from areas within firing range of Goma, the capital of mineral-rich North Kivu province, according to mission head Martin Kobler.
M23 rebels defected from Congo's army last year after the breakdown of a 2009 peace agreement. The rebels held Goma for 11 days in November before withdrawing under international pressure to begin peace talks with the government. Congo accuses Rwanda of supporting M23, which Rwanda denies.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was "deeply concerned" by the escalating violence, in an emailed statement Friday. He urged regional actors "to exercise utmost restraint and refrain from any acts or statements that could lead to a further deterioration of the situation."
Rwandan state television broadcast images showing at least five tanks and other armored vehicles being transported from the Gako military barracks in Rwanda's eastern Bugesera district to the Congolese border.
"Rwandan troops are not in the DRC (yet)," Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said on her Twitter account Thursday. "When they are, you will know."
Calls to army spokesman Joseph Nzabamwita and Mushikiwabo weren't answered when Bloomberg sought comment on the deployment.
Rwanda, which currently has a seat on the U.N. Security Council, is blocking new U.N. sanctions against M23 members, Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., the most senior Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement Friday.
The country's actions "raise serious concerns" about Rwandan President Paul Kagame's commitment to peace in the region, he said. "Continued attempts to undermine U.N. and broader international efforts to defeat rebel groups and bring peace to the region may trigger a reassessment of U.S.-Rwanda ties."
Rwanda signed a framework peace agreement with Congo and nine other African countries in February, which committed all signatories to refrain from supporting rebel groups in the region. South Africa and Tanzania have sent troops to Congo as part of a new U.N. intervention brigade with a wider mandate to pursue rebels in Congo.
The U.N. asked South Africa for 3 Rooivalk attack helicopters for its 18,500-strong peacekeeping force in Congo, Lieutenant- General Derrick Mgwebi, the South African National Defence Force's chief of joint operations, told reporters in Pretoria. The U.N. needs to agree on the cost of the helicopters, he said.
Eastern Congo has suffered more than 15 years of conflict since the aftermath of the 1994 Rwandan genocide spread across the border. Dozens of rebel groups are still active in the region, a decade after the official end of fighting.
M23 wants the government to resume negotiations, Kingston said. Talks between the two sides began in Uganda in December and stalled after the rebel group split into two factions in February.
"We withdrew because we want to give peace a chance," Kingston said. Congolese army spokesman Colonel Olivier Hamuli didn't answer his phone when called for comment.
Eastern Congo, which shares borders with Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi, is rich in tin ore, tungsten and tantalum, and armed groups and members of the army sometimes profit from mineral sales, according to the UN. Congo is Africa's biggest tin producer.