The top UN official for the Democratic Republic of the Congo said on Wednesday that the rebel M23 insurgent group in the country’s east is well-armed and equipped, posing a growing threat to civilians.
“During the most recent hostilities, the M23 has increasingly operated itself as a conventional army rather than an armed group,” said Bintou Keita, head of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, known as MONUSCO goes.
“The M23 has firepower and equipment, which is increasingly sophisticated, especially in terms of long-range fire capabilities – mortars, machine guns, as well as precision fire against aircraft,” she said in the Security Council remarks.
The M23 was defeated in 2013 by the Army of the Congo (FARDC) and special MONUSCO forces. But in November 2021, its forces began to emerge again.
Congolese officials blame neighboring Rwanda, saying it supports the group, which claims to protect the Tutsi minority in eastern DRC. The government of Rwanda is led by Tutsi but denies any ties to the rebel group.
At the Security Council, Congolese Ambassador Georges Nzongola-Natalja called for the unconditional withdrawal of the M23 from the DRC. He also urged strong condemnation of those who support the group “beginning with the state of Rwanda and its president.”
“It is a baseless allegation,” replied Rwanda’s envoy Clever Goethe.
MONUSCO has more than 16,000 soldiers and police in the east of the Congo. But Keita warns that they may soon be shot down by the rebels.
“Should M23 continue its well-coordinated attacks against FARDC and MONUSCO with increasingly conventional capabilities, the mission may find itself facing a threat that is beyond its current capabilities,” she said.
The United Nations has called on the group to end all hostilities and to disarm.
Over the past three months, the United Nations has recorded the deaths and scores of injuries to nearly 1,000 civilians in the provinces of North and South Kivu and Ituri due to attacks by armed groups and their clashes with security forces.
The terrorists want to control the lucrative trade of sought-after minerals including gold, tungsten, copper and cobalt, which are in abundance in the East.
As Congolese security forces and UN peacekeepers redeploy to respond to the M23 threat, Keita said, other armed groups have taken advantage of the security void, including the Allied Democratic Forces and the Cooperative Pour le Development. Do Congo-Zire (CODECO).
The United Nations has used a variety of abuses, including looting, rape and murder. Displacement has increased in the east, forcing 700,000 people from their homes since the beginning of 2022.
“Just imagine – mothers are cooking dust, clay to feed their babies instead of boiling corn or soy,” said Julienne Luseng, of Ituri-based women’s NGO Female Solidarity for Integrated Peace and Development.
Speaking to council members via video, Lucenz read out the horrific testimony of a woman who was kidnapped by CODECO militants when she went to pay a ransom for a captive relative.
“It was a trap. They brought me there, they tied me up, they beat me, they stripped me of clothes. They slit the throat of a Nandi, they took out his entrails and told me to cook them,” Lusheng read out the woman’s statement. “Then they fed human flesh to all the prisoners.”
The woman’s troubles did not end there.
“Late night, we went to another camp. I was raped throughout the night, and I was subjected to other physical abuse,” she said.
Released by CODECO a few days later, the woman was taken by another group to an isolated village as she was on her way home. He was kept as a sex slave for several days and then asked to cook and eat human flesh. When she finally reached home, she found that the relative she was trying to release had already been murdered.
regional stabilization force
The resurgence of the M23 has led to a deterioration in relations between the DRC and Rwanda.
On 27 May, the Congolese government declared the M23 a terrorist movement, accusing Rwanda of supporting insurgents, and suspending RwandaAir flights to the DRC.
At an African Union summit the next day, Senegalese President Mackie Sall, president of the AU, met with the two presidents and offered Angolan President Joao Lourenco, president of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, to mediate between them.
Last week, East African leaders agreed to deploy a regional security force to help restore order and ease tensions in eastern Congo. Kenya is set to lead the force, the size of which has not been announced.
UN Keita told reporters that she had been told the force’s headquarters would be deployed by the end of July and that the army would follow in August.
“I would urge East African community leaders to prioritize a dialogue-based approach to the crisis,” US envoy Richard Mills told the council. “The United States emphasizes that any additional force deployment in the Eastern DRC should be closely coordinated with MONUSCO, and conducted in accordance with the parties’ respective commitments under international law, including international humanitarian law. should go.”
He said this should also be done in line with existing Security Council sanctions proposals, and formally notified before the Council is deployed.