Army blocks UN peacekeepers from DRC combat zone

Congolese troops on Wednesday denied access to United Nations peacekeepers, Red Cross workers and journalists to a border region as they joined forces with soldiers from Kigali to pursue Rwandan Hutu rebels.

About a dozen trucks transporting Indian soldiers with the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Monuc) spent about two hours at the roadblock near the town of Kibumba, about 35km north of Nord-Kivu province’s capital, Goma, before turning back, an AFP correspondent reported.

Kibumba, near the Rwandan border, was where up to 2 000 Rwandan soldiers entered eastern DRC on Tuesday to take part in a joint operation with the Congolese army (FARDC).

The Rwandan forces have a mandate to hunt Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) rebels who took refuge in the DRC after Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, officials said.

The Rwandan troops are headed for Rutshuru, about 100km north of Goma, where the situation was calm early on Wednesday, Monuc reported.

A vehicle of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was also stopped by the Congolese military police from reaching the area north of Goma.

Monuc on Tuesday had protested the blocking of its patrols. Their role is to protect civilians and allow humanitarian aid to reach thousands of people displaced during months of fighting between government forces and ethnic Tutsi rebels.

But on Tuesday those rebels of the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), who control vast swathes of Nord-Kivu, allowed hundreds of Congolese soldiers through its frontlines to hunt the FDLR.

The CNDP say they began their rebellion to defend local Tutsis from attacks by the Hutu FDLR, some of whom took part in Rwanda’s 1994 genocide which killed 800 000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

The Congolese army is also involved in another joint operation with Uganda to hunt down the Ugandan rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) who have also sought to hide in the vast central African nation.

Amnesty International on Tuesday called on the DRC, Uganda and Rwanda to make sure that civilians do not pay the price for these military operations.

“Many tens of thousands of Congolese civilians are caught up in these wide-ranging government offensives. The LRA and FDLR also have thousands of civilians—family members as well as adult and child abductees—in their midst,” Amnesty said in a statement.

“Government forces must at all times distinguish carefully between civilians and fighters.” it said.
- Sapa-AFP

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