U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Sunday urged the March 23 Movement (M23) rebel group in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to respond positively to the recent calls made by Central African leaders to halt their ongoing offensive and lay down arms.
He also welcomed a joint statement issued by DRC President Joseph Kabila Kabange, his Rwandan and Ugandan counterparts Paul Kagame and Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, calling on the rebel group to immediately cease fire in Eastern DRC.
Further, Ban noted that the African leaders who attended the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region Summit in the Ugandan capital Kampala on Saturday had urged the rebel group to halt its hostile actions and threats to depose the DRC government.
"The Secretary-General calls on the M23 to immediately lay down their arms in accordance with the agreements reached in Kampala, and comply with the immediate withdrawal of their forces from Goma," Ban's spokesperson said.
"The Secretary-General encourages the parties to build on the dialogue among the leaders of the Great Lakes region to address the fundamental causes of conflict," he added.
The M23 comprises mainly soldiers who mutinied from the DRC national army in April as well as members of a former Congolese Tutsi rebel group which signed a peace accord with the DRC government in 2009.
The rebel group had seized Goma, capital of North Kivu, last Tuesday. Incidentally, the rebels met little resistance from the Congolese Army or U.N. peacekeepers as they entered Goma as most of the city's residents and Congolese troops had fled ahead of their arrival. The rebels have since captured the nearby town of Sake as well.
The rebels have since demanded immediate talks with Kabila, and made it clear late last week that they intended to remain in Goma while awaiting talks with the DRC President. Further, the rebel group warned that its fighters will defended themselves and keep advancing if attacked by Congolese forces. Incidentally, the rebel offensive which began last week has displaced some 600,000 civilians in the North Kivu province.
Soon after the M23 rebels captured Goma last Tuesday, Kabila flew to the Rwandan capital Kigali for talks with his Rwandan and Ugandan counterparts. In a joint statement issued after their talks, the trio called on the M23 to "immediately stop [its] offensive and pull out of Goma."
Also, Kabila said later that he would study the M23 demands and consider negotiating with them. The rebels insist that the DRC government had failed to honor the terms of a 2009 peace deal which promised them army posts.
The U.N. peacekeeping mission in the DRC, better known by the French acronym MONUSCO, is continuing to hold its positions in Goma "to protect civilians from imminent threat." The world body said it had received reports indicating that the M23 had destroyed and looted property, wounded civilians and abducted children and women from Goma.
MONUSCO, with 19,000 uniformed personnel, is the latest iteration of U.N. peacekeeping missions deployed in DR Congo. In late June, the Security Council extended the mission's mandate for one more year. U.N. peace-keepers were first sent to DR Congo in 1999 as part of international efforts to end the 1999-2002 civil war and establish peace in the region. The fighting had dragged in six other countries and left more than four million people dead.
Notably, the Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution late Wednesday, condemning the latest wave of attacks by the M23 rebel group. The Council also demanded the immediate withdrawal of the rebel group from Goma and called for sanctions against M23 leaders. Further, it demanded that "any and all outside support to the M23 cease immediately."
A report released by U.N. experts on Wednesday had accused Rwanda and Uganda of supporting the M23 rebel group. The report alleged that the rebel movement is being commanded by Rwandan Defense Minister James Kabarebe. It also accused both Rwanda and Uganda of sending troops to support the M23 rebels in their fight against Congolese government troops.
The report was discussed by the Security Council on Wednesday. Both Rwanda and Uganda had denied the allegations earlier after the report was leaked last month. Notably, M23 rebels as well as members of the Rwandan government are mostly ethnic Tutsis.
by RTT Staff Writer
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