A government offensive in Congo that rights groups say has caused many civilian deaths should not be suspended and UN peacekeepers should continue supporting it, a senior UN official said.
The disarmament of some 1000 of an estimated 6000 rebels in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has come at a cost of nearly 900 000 people displaced, 1000 dead civilians and 7000 rapes of women and girls, humanitarian and rights groups say.
But Alan Doss, head of the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo, rejected suggestions that the world body withdraw support for government forces fighting Rwandan Hutu rebels, who have been central to 15 years of violence in Central Africa.
“Reducing the pressure now would give the FDLR (Hutu rebels) time to regroup and rearm,” Doss told a meeting of the UN Security Council on the Congo.
“It would also send an ambiguous message to some elements of the (Congolese army) who have in the past cooperated with the FDLR,” he said. “Rwanda might also see this as a step backwards from the rapprochement that has opened up an entirely new perspective” for mineral-rich eastern Congo.
The rebels, known as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, include some members of extremist Hutu groups from Rwanda’s 1994 genocide and are seen as a root cause of Congo’s violence, which has simmered despite the holding of elections in 2006 meant to end years of war.
Launched in January, the offensive started in North Kivu province with the backing of Rwanda, Congo’s former enemy, and has been extended into South Kivu with the support of the UN Security Council.
But rights groups say the offensive has sparked massive displacement as civilians are caught between attacks by rebels and widespread abuses by government troops now including hastily integrated former rebels and militia fighters.
Doss acknowledged the criticism of the Congolese army and said UN forces “will withdraw support from battalions that show a blatant disregard for international humanitarian law.” He later told reporters the UN force has thus far not stopped supporting any Congolese battalions.
Philip Alston, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, said in Kinshasa this week that Congolese soldiers had killed at least 50 civilian refugees and raped some 40 women and girls during an incident in April.
Alston said the massacre happened when the soldiers, mainly former Congolese Tutsi rebels integrated into the army as part of a January peace deal, attacked the village of Shalio during an offensive into South Kivu province.
Doss said there should be an investigation of the incident but said it had not occurred during a UN-supported operation and involved no UN personnel.
Pic: Congolese military