United Nations peacekeepers will help the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) army disarm eastern dissident groups by force in violence-plagued North Kivu province, UN and Congolese commanders said.
Army soldiers and fighters loyal to renegade Tutsi general Laurent Nkunda clashed again on Thursday a few kilometres from Rutshuru, where the dissidents attacked an army base a day earlier and forced thousands of civilians to flee.
”Now that all peaceful means have been explored with no result … we will enter into a phase where there is no other solution than to constrain them to [reintegrate] without delay or conditions,” General Babacar Gaye, military chief of the UN peace mission Monuc, said in comments broadcast on Thursday on UN radio.
The army has battled Nkunda since he abandoned a peace deal in August, raiding government positions and forcing tens of thousands of civilians to flee.
Under diplomatic pressure to find a peaceful solution to the North Kivu crisis, President Joseph Kabila delayed a planned military offensive against Nkunda last month but ordered the rebels to disband and reintegrate the national army.
However, only a few hundred fighters have so far deserted Nkunda’s ranks, believed to total about 4 000, and Congolese army chief of staff General Dieudonne Kayembe said the time had come to launch operations against the rebels.
”I have come here precisely in order to establish plans for constraint, for the use of force. We will carry out this work of conceiving, of planning, with Monuc,” he said.
The operations would also target local Mai Mai militia, and Hutu-dominated Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) rebels also present in North Kivu, Gaye and Kayembe said.
Monuc’s 17 000-strong force has a mandate to operate with the army to re-establish security and protect civilians, but UN sources said for the time being it would limit its role to planning and logistical support for Congolese operations.
Civilians under fire
More than 370 000 civilians have fled fighting in the area this year.
Monuc denounced Wednesday’s assault on an army base in Rutshuru, 50km north of the provincial capital, Goma, as a war crime, and said Nkunda’s forces deliberately employed heavy weapons in a populated area.
UN soldiers and attack helicopters were readied to prevent the town falling to rebels and Nkunda’s fighters later withdrew.
A spokesperson for Nkunda said the raid was a counter-offensive after an army attack on rebel positions.
Last week Nkunda’s men targeted a military installation near a group of refugee camps just 10km outside Goma, forcing as many as 30 000 displaced to flee once again.
Nkunda has led a rebellion since 2004 and says he is defending the interests of his Tutsi ethnic group in eastern DRC. He accuses the army of siding with the Tutsis’ FDLR foes.
Kabila, who has vowed to end conflict in the east that has continued since the country’s 1998 to 2003 war, denies supporting the FDLR.
His government agreed with Rwanda this month to disarm Hutu rebels, who include perpetrators of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide that killed an estimated 800 000 Rwandan Tutsis and moderate Hutus. — Reuters