/ 17 October 2007

DRC army given green light to disarm rebels

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) army has orders to forcibly disarm soldiers loyal to renegade general Laurent Nkunda, President Joseph Kabila said on Wednesday, but he declined to say when the offensive would begin.

”The armed forces … have received the green light to begin, or rather to prepare, the forced disarmament of Mr Nkunda and those who remain with him,” Kabila told a news conference in Goma, capital of the eastern province of North Kivu.

”I won’t give you the date for these operations to start but the army has already been given its mission to disarm these people,” he said.

Kabila said the operation would not necessarily begin immediately but made clear he hoped to definitively pacify the violence-torn province on DRC’s eastern border with Uganda and Rwanda by the end of the year.

Nkunda’s forces have battled government troops in North Kivu since August, forcing thousands of civilians from their homes.

The United Nations made a last-ditch appeal on Monday for the renegade soldiers to rejoin the national army after Nkunda ignored a government deadline to disband his forces in the east.

Kabila has indicated for some time that he wants to use military force against Nkunda, but last-minute international pressure during talks in Goma this week appeared to have persuaded him to give the renegade general more time.

One Western diplomat said on Monday that Kabila appeared ready to give Nkunda another 10 days to comply with the government’s demands that he send his Tutsi fighters to army integration centres or see them forcibly disarmed.

Nkunda says he is defending DRC’s Tutsi ethnic community against attacks by Rwandan Hutu rebels he says are supported by Kabila’s government and army.

Kabila, who vowed to pacify all of his vast Central African country after winning elections in the war-scarred former Belgian colony last year, denies such support exists.

UN relief agencies and foreign governments fear an all-out offensive against Nkunda will sharply worsen an already catastrophic humanitarian situation in North Kivu, where about 370 000 people have fled fighting in the province this year. — Reuters