Democratic Republic Of Congo's M23 rebels, comprising renegade soldiers who mutinied in April under the leadership of Gen. Bosco Ntaganda, on Wednesday threatened to capture the city of Goma if attacks on civilians were not stopped immediately.
Addressing a press conference in Bunagana, a border town captured by the rebels last Friday, the M23 leadership denied allegations by the DRC government that they were being supported by the government of neighboring Rwanda.
Jean-Marie Runiga Rugerero, who described himself as the leader of the M23's political wing, told reporters that the rebel group had handed over control of the towns they captured recently from the DRC forces to the United Nations peacekeeping force deployed in the region.
Stressing that withdrawal of M23 fighters from the captured areas were subject to safety of civilians there, he said and warned that "now about Goma, if civilians aren't protected… We M23 will take over the city of Goma and protect the civilians - the Tutsis, the Balega and the Bashi."
"Our intention is to let the international community know that the problems bedeviling this country are not due to interference from neighboring countries, the problems facing us are caused by ourselves right here in DR Congo. There is total disregard and abuse of human rights here in this country. There is no democracy in this country," he added.
Nevertheless, U.N. special representative to DR Congo Roger Meece has said that the U.N. peacekeeping mission in the DRC is re-deploying most of its 19,000-strong forces to Goma to protect civilian centers in the city from the advancing M23 rebels.
Notably, the renegade soldiers have captured several towns in the region after they deserted the Army earlier this year. An Indian soldier with the U.N. peacekeeping mission in the DRC was killed during the fighting for Bunagana, a town located near the border with Uganda.
Intensive fighting between government troops and the M23 in DRC's eastern provinces of North and South Kivu has displaced more than 100,000 people, including many who have fled to neighboring Rwanda and Uganda.
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 charges.
Nataganda was made a General in DRC's Army under a 2009 peace deal under which his National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP), a former Congolese Tutsi rebel group, was integrated into the national army.
A recent U.N. report had accused the Rwandan government led by President Paul Kagame of supporting Ntaganda's rebel group. But the Rwandan government has strongly denied those allegations. Incidentally, both Kagame and Ntaganda are ethnic Tutsis.
Besides fighting the mutineers, the Congolese security forces are 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. The fighting dragged in six other countries and left more than four million people dead. Nevertheless, fighting continues sporadically in the east, where the bulk of U.N. forces are deployed. In late June, the U.N. Security Council extended the mission's mandate for one more year.
by RTT Staff Writer
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