Africa seeks anti-Congo rebel force
DEMOCRATIC Republic of Congo, Rwanda and neighbouring states have called for the creation of an international force to eliminate armed rebels in strife-torn eastern Congo.
Their agreement yesterday, signed on the sidelines of an African Union summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, proposes an international military response to an offensive by rebels in Congo’s North Kivu province.
The document signed by the foreign ministers of nearly a dozen states of the Great Lakes region, including Congo and Rwanda, condemned both the recent advances by the Tutsi-led M23 rebel movement and a persisting rebellion by mainly Hutu fighters of the FDLR insurgent group in North and South Kivu.
Eastern Congo’s conflict, which has killed, maimed and displaced several million civilians over nearly two decades, has its roots in Tutsi-Hutu enmities dating back to the 1994 Rwandan genocide, in which an estimated 800,000 Tutsis were killed.
Later invasions of Congo by Rwandan forces and Rwanda’s backing of Congolese rebels fuelled two crippling wars.
Congo’s government, whose army has retreated in disarray before the advancing M23 rebels over the last week, had accused Rwanda of fomenting and supporting the rebellion, which began as a mutiny by former rebels in the government army.
Rwanda denies supporting the M23, although United Nations investigators have produced evidence to back the allegations that Rwandan military officials gave backing to the rebels.
In the signed document, the states grouped in the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region proposed working with the AU and the UN to create “a neutral international force to eradicate M23, FDLR and all other negative forces in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo”.
Both the Congolese and Rwandan foreign ministers welcomed the agreement as a step towards ending the latest fighting in North Kivu, which since April has displaced more than 100,000 civilians.
“I think it is positive. The most important thing is putting it into effect,” Congolese foreign minister Raymond Tshibanda N’tungamulongo said.
Rwanda’s foreign minister Louise Mushikiwabo said: “It is a good agreement, it is not a solution, it is part of a solution.”
It was not immediately clear in the text, to be presented to African heads of state at the Addis summit, where the troops would come from to establish the “neutral international force”.
The UN has a peacekeeping mission of 17,000 in the Congo but has often been hard pressed to halt fighting. An Indian peackeeper was killed last week during M23 attacks.
While Congo welcomed the agreement’s explicit condemnation of the M23 group which it says is backed by Rwanda Ms Mushikiwabo maintained Rwanda’s position that it was not involved in what she called “a mutiny by indisciplined soldiers of the Congolese army”.
At the same time, she welcomed the prospect of what she called “swift, decisive military action” against the FDLR, which opposes Rwandan president Paul Kagame.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had told Mr Kagame he was concerned about the reports that dissident Congolese troops were being backed by Rwanda.
Western governments have also been pressing for the arrest of renegade Congolese Tutsi general Bosco Ntaganda, wanted by the International Criminal Court for suspected war crimes.
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