The UN's envoy to the DRC has warned that a rebellion led by an ex-warlord indicted for war crimes threatens to uproot millions of civilians.
Roger Meece told the UN Security Council it was important to quickly put an end to the mutiny by Bosco Ntaganda, who has been sought by the International Criminal Court since 2006, and another rebel leader, Sultani Makenga. He said their rebellion had led to an increase in attacks by a number of other armed groups, which has deepened instability especially in North and South Kivu, and could destabilise the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) surrounding region.
“All of this activity has exacerbated the ongoing serious problem of rape and other forms of sexual violence,” Meece said. “As well, it has also greatly limited humanitarian access through the region, imposing further hardships on the population.”
He urged countries in the region and beyond to investigate recent reports that the mutinous forces were receiving support from Rwanda and take “all actions necessary to ensure any external support is stopped”. The Rwandan government denies any involvement in the rebellion.
East Congo has been engulfed in fighting since the 1994 Rwanda genocide, in which at least 500 000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered by Hutu militias before a Tutsi-led rebel army took power in Rwanda. More than one million Rwandan Hutus fled across the border into the DRC, and Rwanda has invaded the country to take action against Hutu militias there.
Ntaganda, who is a Tutsi, was a feared warlord until he 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, despite the ICC arrest warrant, but in late April the peace deal fell apart and Ntaganda and his troops defected from the army.
Meece said Ntaganda, Makenga and others complained that the 2009 agreement was not being implemented.
Their recourse to armed mutiny “now threatens a general destabilisation of the Kivus and region, and dramatically increases the general threat to millions of civilians,” he said.
Following his defection, Meece said, “Ntaganda did not receive as broad support for this mutiny as he anticipated, and the response of the Congolese government has been effective.”
He said the Congolese government has managed to keep a large number of troops once loyal to Ntaganda in the army and has successfully persuaded many other deserting troops to resume their posts without punishment.
“This has substantially reduced the numbers available to Ntaganda’s mutiny, as well as to the parallel MN23 movement started by Makenga shortly afterward,” Meece said. The relationship between the rebel leaders is unclear, he added, noting that the M23 movement strongly denies any association with Ntaganda, possibly because he is wanted by the ICC.
Meece said the mutinous forces were relatively quickly driven into a pocket of less than 100 square kilometres near the town of Bunagana in the eastern part of Virunga National Park adjacent to the Ugandan and Rwandan borders. Estimates of the size of the forces vary, but generally cite several hundred combatants, he said.
In May, Meece said, government forces seized major arms caches apparently belonging to Ntaganda’s and Makenga’s forces, including roughly 22.6 tonnes and 29 tonnes of arms and ammunition respectively.
He said the Congolese army has concentrated substantial forces around the small pocket in Virunga park “to gain control of the mutinous force positions”. – Sapa-AP