The neutral force set to intervene in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) would consist of 4 000 troops from different African countries, according to the DRC’s defence minister Alexandre Luba Ntambo.
Defence ministers from Angola, Burundi, Congo, DRC, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda held talks overnight on Thursday and “identified urgent actions needed with a view to ensuring that combat ceases completely in eastern DRC,” according to a communiqué.
They “prepared the means for making operational a neutral international force to deploy in the east of DRC”, under a mandate from the African Union and with UN backing, AFP reports.
The force should comprise troops from African countries, the text said. On Friday Ntambo said the proposed “neutral international force” would not include troops from the DRC or any of the countries accused of involvement in the fighting in the country’s volatile Kivu region.
“The DRC, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, to name just those countries, are involved. It would not be proper for them to take part in the force,” he told AFP.
At the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) the defence ministers agreed that the M23 rebels must “return to their pre-June 30 positions” on three hills near the Ugandan and Rwandan borders, and must stop “all unconstitutional activity”, including setting up their own local governments and replacing the national flag with their own, Ntambo said.
The ministers in the ICGLR have sent a report to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who will present it at the next ICGLR summit in September, which will be held in Kampala. Last week’s summit was held in the DRC.
Regional African leaders agreed last month on the idea of a “neutral force” to take on Congo-based rebel groups. Fighting between M23 rebels and DRC government forces has displaced nearly half a million people since April and damaged relations between neighbouring countries in the Great Lakes region that have a history of conflict.
The UN Security Council has demanded an end to foreign support for the Tutsi-led M23 rebels, a rebuke diplomats said was aimed at Rwanda and Uganda. Rwanda has denied accusations by UN officials that its military has provided equipment and recruits for the M23 rebellion. Uganda has rejected similar accusations.
On Saturday the Southern African Development Community (SADC) resolved to send a mission to Rwanda as it wrapped up a two-day annual summit in the Mozambican capital, after regional leaders accused Rwanda of supporting DRC rebels, AFP reports. They said the “interference” threatened regional peace and stability.
“(The) summit noted with great concern that the security situation in the eastern part of DRC has deteriorated in the last three months causing displacement of people, loss of lives and property,” said executive secretary Thomas Salamao. “This is being perpetrated by rebel groups with the assistance of Rwanda,” he said, adding that the summit “urged the latter to cease immediately its interference that constitutes a threat to peace and stability not only to the DRC but also to the SADC region.”
Since the recent release of a UN report outlining Rwandan support for rebels, the United States, the Netherlands, Germany and Sweden have each suspended all or part of their aid to Rwanda.
The United Nations has more than 17 000 peacekeepers in Congo but they have often struggled to halt fighting and protect civilians in the vast, unruly central African state, which produces gold, copper, tin, diamonds and other minerals.
The M23 name comes from a 2009 peace accord the rebels say was violated by Kinshasa, an assertion denied by the government.
The group’s clashes with the army have forced some 250 000 people from their homes near the border between DR Congo and Rwanda, which the UN has accused of backing the rebels — a charge strongly denied by Kigali.