The European Union on Tuesday voiced its deep concerns over the deteriorating humanitarian and security situation in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) due to a recent Army mutiny and the continued presence of armed rebel groups in the region.
DRC's eastern provinces of North and South Kivu have been witnessing intensified fighting in recent weeks between government troops and the M23, composed of renegade soldiers who mutinied in April under the leadership of Gen. Bosco Ntaganda. The ongoing conflict has displaced more than 100,000 people, including many who have fled to neighboring Rwanda and Uganda.
Ntaganda's forces on Sunday seized control of the strategic eastern town of Rutshuru after DRC government forces retreated from the town. A couple of days earlier, the rebel forces had captured the border town of Bunagana. An Indian soldier with the U.N. peacekeeping mission in the DRC was killed during that fighting.
The National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP), a former Congolese Tutsi rebel group led by Ntaganda, was integrated into the national army in 2009 under a peace deal between the rebel group and the Congolese government. Under the deal, Ntaganda was made a General.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) has already issued a warrant for Ntaganda's arrest on charges of recruiting child soldiers to his militia. However, Ntaganda, who is also known as "Terminator," has rejected the ICC charges.
In a statement on Tuesday, the EU expressed its deep concerns over the rapidly deteriorating situation in the eastern DRC, and deplored the death of the U.N. peacekeeper in the conflict. The bloc also reiterated its support for the U.N. peacekeeping mission in the DRC and called for an immediate end to all violence perpetrated by armed groups in the region.
A recent report by the Group of Experts of the U.N. Security Council Sanctions Committee had accused several high-ranking officials in the Rwandan government led by President Paul Kagame of supporting Ntaganda's rebel group. Rwanda has since denied those allegations. Incidentally, both Kagame and Ntaganda are ethnic Tutsis.
The EU welcomed Rwanda's invitation to the U.N. group of experts to conduct a detailed review of the information contained in the U.N. report. It also called on Rwanda to halt any support to armed groups in the eastern DRC and to investigate fully and respond constructively to the issues raised in the UNSC Sanctions Committee report and annexes.
"The EU supports the ongoing dialogue between the DRC and Rwanda to end the M23 mutiny and to continue the fight against the Forces Democratiques de Liberation du Rwanda (FDLR). The Union encourages confidence building measures, such as joint verification mechanisms, between the DRC and Rwanda," the statement said.
Noting that lasting stability in the eastern DRC cannot be achieved by military action alone, the European bloc urged both Kinshasa and Kigali to contribute to a political solution and to address the regional and the local roots of instability.
"The ongoing developments are not in the benefit of either country or their populations. It is the responsibility of the DRC and Rwanda to ensure sustainable peace in the region," the statement added.
In addition to the ongoing fighting with the mutineers, the Congolese security forces were also engaged in separate offensives against Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) rebels in the east and the Uganda-based Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in the north.
U.N. peace-keepers were sent to DR Congo in 1999 as part of international efforts aimed at ending the 1999-2002 civil war and establish peace in the region. In late June, the UNSC had extended the mission's mandate for one more year.
by RTT Staff Writer
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