UN-backed mission launched against Congo rebels

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An UN-backed military operation against Rwandan Hutu rebels in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has been launched, a UN official said.

“The first joint operations began at the weekend against FDLR (rebel) centres,” Alan Doss, head of the UN operation in Congo, called MONUC, told Reuters.

The operation will involve 18 battalions from the Congolese FARDC army in a series of targeted attacks throughout north and south Kivu provinces in Congo’s conflict-racked east, Doss said.

The UN forces are providing rations, logistical support and medical evacuation assistance, Doss said.

Two battalions are already taking part in an operation in Kashebere, 75 km North West of Goma in north Kivu, minister of information Lambert Mende told Reuters by telephone.
“We cannot give out the figures of injured or dead while operations are ongoing, but it is going very very well and they (the FDLR) are on the defensive,” Mende said.

MONUC, which has grown into the biggest UN force in the world with approximately 20 000 uniformed personnel, has been in the mineral-rich central African nation since a 1998-2003 civil war in which millions of people are believed to have died.

The force drew criticism from human rights groups after Congo’s army was accused of atrocities against civilians during its pursuit of the FDLR rebels in past missions and the UN suspended support for some units.

Mende said not all of the battalions had yet been vetted for the new operation. “We are still selecting the 18 battalions but we have started the operations because the units judged it was the right time,” he said.

The UN has also been under pressure from Congo’s government to provide a withdrawal plan for the MONUC force ahead of the 50th anniversary of Congo’s independence from its former colonial master Belgium on June 30.

Congo wants all MONUC forces out by June, 2011.

UN head of peacekeeping missions Alain Le Roy told reporters in Kinshasa on Wednesday the UN would form a joint working group with Congo to discuss withdrawal.
“For now there is no date but of course everyone has a date in their head,” Le Roy said.

MONUC’s mandate runs out at the end of May this year, when it will need to seek a new mandate from the UN Security Council that includes an exit strategy.

Pic: FARDC troops

Source: www.af.reuters.com