In the strongest indication to date of what its DRC intervention brigade is mandated to do, the UN has set up a security zone around the flashpoint city of Goma and told rebels they have 48 hours to disarm.
The ultimatum has already run more than half its course, expiring at 4pm Goma time tomorrow, after which all necessary measures will be taken to disarm rebels, a UN Peacekeeping Mission in the DRC statement said.
South African soldiers, along with troops from Malawi and Tanzania, make up the 3 000 plus intervention brigade tasked with preventing further conflict escalation in the volatile eastern parts of the DRC. The force is the first in UN peacekeeping history to be given an offensive mandate to end violence against civilians.
“After 4pm on Thursday, August 1, they (rebels) will be considered an imminent threat of physical violence to civilians and MONUSCO will take all necessary measures to disarm them, including the use of force in accordance with its mandate and rules of engagement,” the mission’s statement said.
The ultimatum follows increased attacks by M23 rebels on the DRC military, in many cases involving civilians in skirmishes, in recent weeks.
Individuals in the area of North Kivu that includes Goma and Sake who are not members of national security forces have to hand in their weapons to a MONUSCO base and join the DDR/RR (disarmament, demobilisation, repatriation, re-integration and resettlement) process.
The Goma and Sake areas are home to more than a million civilians. Also in the area is the Mugunga camp, temporary home to about 70 000 people displaced by conflict.
Since mid-May the area has seen repeated attacks by M23 against DRC military positions in what is seen as an attempt to advance on both cities. The latest attack on July 14 saw M23 use indiscriminate and indirect fire, including the use of heavy weapons that resulted in civilian casualties, the UN Mission statement said.
“The security zone will push these indirect fire threats out of range of Goma and may be expanded and repeated elsewhere,” it added.
The deadline and ultimatum comes hard on the heels of the arrival in Goma of new MONUSCO force commander, Lieutenant General Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz.
Over the past year M23, along with other armed groups, has repeatedly clashed with FARDC in eastern DRC. The rebels briefly occupied Goma in November last year. The fighting, which erupted again recently, and which dragged in a group of Ugandan-based rebels, has displaced more than 100 000 people, exacerbating an ongoing humanitarian crisis in the region, which includes 2.6 million internally displaced people (IDPs) and 6.4 million in need of food and emergency aid.