A UN Security Council diplomat has revealed to Reuters news agency that the main purpose of a special intervention force created last week by the Council will be to ‘search and destroy the M23 rebels and other armed groups in the country. The official who declined to be named, confirmed the worst fears of the M23 Movement whose political leader Bertrand Bisimwa at the weekend warned the UN that by attacking the M23, the world’s body would be choosing war instead of peace and that it would be at war with the very people of Congo who are struggling to attain good governance.
UN officials believe its peacekeepers are being stretched thin by fighters of the M23 who have shown a capability of neutralising government forces. The admission came as the UN’s special envoy to Congo, Roger Meece was told by Kinshasa that it would bring a group of suspected mass rapists to justice after the United Nations last month threatened to halt support to two Congolese army battalions.
The United Nations claims 126 women were raped in Minova in November after Congolese troops fled to the town as M23 rebels briefly captured the nearby provincial capital of Goma. In a March 25 letter to Congolese authorities, Mr Meece had given the DRC government seven days to take action on the rapes. This came after earlier demands by the UN for Congolese authorities to prosecute the suspected rapists went unheeded. “MONUSCO notes that assurances have been received recently from various DRC (Congo) officials – including from the Minister of Foreign Affairs Raymond Tshibanda – that justice will follow its course on this matter,” said U.N. peacekeeping spokesman Andre-Michel Essoungou.
He added that the U.N. force in Congo was “aware of a number of appropriate actions reportedly taken by the Congolese Government, in relation to the 126 alleged cases of sexual abuse that occurred in Minova, North Kivu, in late November 2012.” The U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo, known as MONUSCO, has a mandate to protect civilians and supports operations by the Congolese army. There are more than 17,000 troops in Congo, a country the size of Western Europe.
“The mission is in close contact with the Government of the DRC and is expecting an official response, in the coming days, to its various communications on this issue,” the spokesman said. The United Nations had previously told Congo that it would end support to two battalions linked to the Minova rapes if it did not try the soldiers involved. U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said in December that human rights abuses were reported in and around Minova between November 20 and November 30, including the 126 rapes and the killing of two civilians. Nesirky said at the time that two soldiers were charged with rape, while seven more were charged with looting.
African leaders signed a U.N.-mediated accord in February aimed at ending two decades of conflict in eastern Congo and paving the way for the intervention force approved last week. M23 leader Bisimwa has warned that his Movement reserves the right to defend itself when attacked. He said it was surprising that an organisation set up to seek peace among nations was now agitating for war meant to assist one side of the warring factions in the DRC. Since being appointed leader after Bishop Jean Mary Runiga was ousted less than a month ago, Bisimwa has made it very clear his forces, under the command of Brig Gen Sultani Makenga, would not hesitate to engage any forces sent to attack them.
Wire reports, Reuters and further editing by The LEP editorial team