UN launches new military offensive in the DRC

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United Nations forces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have launched a weeklong offensive in North Kivu province in response to attacks by rebel groups.

VOA reported that the United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Monusco) launched the mission last week to ensure peace and stability in the area before the general elections in November, according to Lieutenant Colonel Felix Basse, military spokesman for Monusco.
“We have seen some activities by various armed groups in that area,” said Basse, “so that’s why we have launched another operation in order to [show] the dominance of Monusco [and] to increase protection of the population.”

He said the offensive in the Grand Nord area of the province will prevent armed groups from reuniting to attack unarmed civilians.

The groups are accused of a number of crimes, including ambushing civilians, looting, kidnapping and rape.

Both the government and Monusco blame rebels from the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) for the assaults in North Kivu.

Residents say the rebels often wait until Monusco’s military operations end before attacking civilians.

But Basse said as part of its mandate, Monusco will continue to conduct routine military offensives to re-assert control over the area.
“This is why we are always launching operation after another operation,” said Basse, “because we are trying to execute our mandate,”

He said Monusco will temporarily replace government soldiers in North Kivu as they undergo 45 days of retraining. Then the UN mission is expected to help stabilize the town of Rutshuru and the surrounding areas.
“We conduct joint military operation[s] with FARDC [the DRC army] whenever possible in order to reassure the population and try to get the security situation in the country better in those areas left by the FARDC,” said Basse.

On Friday UN human rights investigators confirmed that at least 121 women were raped by Congolese forces who attacked and looted villages in the lawless east last month.
“(U.N. human rights staff) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has confirmed that large-scale rape, pillaging, and cruel and degrading treatment were committed in Nakiele, in South Kivu province between the 11th and 13th of June by troops of the armed forces,” UN spokesman Rupert Colville told a news briefing.

Referring to the interviews, he added: “According to their statements, the troops raped 121 women, stole 157 goats and looted other goods including some US$90,000 in cash and gold.”

A spokesman for Congo’s government has said that Colonel Kifaru Niragiye may have been behind the rapes after he and around 100 men deserted from a training camp where they were due to be integrated into the army.

On June 28 the United Nations renewed the mandate of UN peacekeepers in the DRC, making clear they would stay put until Kinshasa shows it can govern its turbulent east. The mandate was extended to June 30 next year.

The government of President Joseph Kabila has repeatedly suggested that Monusco should begin preparations for the force’s withdrawal, a position that Security Council diplomats say is premature given Kinshasa’s inability to halt violence in North and South Kivu in the east.

In his latest report on Congo, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said some 1.738 million people remain displaced in the vast country, including some 1.25 million in North and South Kivu.
“The situation in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo remains fragile,” Ban said.

Several armed groups continue to operate in mineral-rich eastern Congo since a 1998-2003 war that killed five million people, and the government has struggled to counter them despite support from nearly 20,000 blue-helmeted peacekeepers, the biggest exclusively UN force in the world.

Congo’s re-integration strategy, in which former rebels are drafted into the army, is seen by some as the best way of bringing an end to the rebellions, but critics say it undermines the national forces that are increasingly implicated in atrocities against civilians.