Amid talk of M23 rebels regrouping, the United Nations has warned that its Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) in the DRC is ready to take “robust action at any time”.
Briefing the UN Security Council this week, UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) head Martin Kobler said the review of UN military deployment across eastern DRC would be finalised in the coming weeks.
“We will then have a more flexible force. We need it to be more agile, ready to deploy when needed and where civilians are threatened to take on the threat.
“With the FIB and our unmanned aerial vehicles, all armed groups are aware we have the will and the means to take robust action at any time,” he said.
South Africa, one of three troop contributing countries to the FIB under the command of Tanzanian Brigadier James Mwakibolwa, has actively contributed to the withdrawal of the M23 from eastern DRC. This was, among others, via Rooivalk combat support helicopters and the skills of SA National Defence Force (SANDF) snipers deployed to the FIB, the first UN peacekeeping force ever to have an offensive mandate.
The M23 appears to be regrouping only two months after the Tutsi-led insurgency was defeated by Congolese troops and UN peacekeepers, Kobler told Reuters.
“There are credible reports to emerging M23 activities in Ituri in north-eastern Congo,” he said, adding the Congolese government has been asked to speed up disarmament, demobilisation and re-integration of ex-M23 fighters who ended a 20 month revolt in November.
“I am also calling on the governments of Uganda and Rwanda to do everything possible to prevent M23 elements from sheltering or training troops on their territory. We should tolerate no military re-emergence of M23.”
U.N. experts – who monitor violations of UN sanctions on Congo – have long accused neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda of backing the M23, claims both governments have rejected.
In a report to the Security Council’s Congo sanctions committee in December, the experts said they had credible information blacklisted M23 leaders were moving freely in Uganda and the group was still recruiting fighters in Rwanda.
M23 is one of dozens of rebel groups in eastern Congo. Millions of people have died from violence, disease and hunger since the 1990s as armed groups fight for control of the area’s deposits of gold, diamonds, copper, cobalt and uranium.
Regional Peace Deal
Mary Robinson, UN special envoy to the Great Lakes charged with implementing a regional peace deal, told the 15-member Security Council that the DRC and neighbouring countries needed to take some confidence-building steps.
These included showing “none is harbouring individuals responsible for grave human rights violations, none is giving any kind of support or assistance to armed groups and none is interfering in the affairs of a neighbouring country”.
“There is worrying evidence these commitments are not yet being fully implemented by Rwanda and Uganda,” she said.
Kobler said following the defeat of M23, Congolese troops and UN peacekeepers had turned their attention to tackling the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda).
“First operations against FDLR saw some positions cleared,” he said adding only joint operations would be successful.
“I encourage Congolese forces to do more and intensify joint planning and execution of operations against FDLR.”
He also said military action could be expected soon against the Islamist Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a group that “continues to spread terror and horror” in the Ituri region of Congo’s north-eastern Orientale province.
He supported this by saying: “On December 13, in an ADF controlled areas, 21 bodies, including eight babies, very young children and pregnant woman, were found dead and mutilated with some beheaded. Three of the children were reportedly raped before they were murdered”.