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UN commander resigns amid fighting

Text by AFP

Latest update : 2008-10-28

The Spanish commander for the UN mission in DRC has resigned citing "personal reasons." Meanwhile, rebel forces routed government troops in the country's east, prompting the sacking of the defense and interior ministers.

The Spanish general commanding UN troops in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has resigned as rebel forces routed government troops in the country's east, prompting the sacking of the defense and interior ministers.

UN spokeswoman Michele Montas said that Lieutenant General Vicente Diaz de Villegas y Herreria of Spain, recently appointed Force Commander for the UN mission in DRC known as MONUC, "has indicated that for personal reasons he will not be able to continue with his assignment as planned."

The announcement came after forces of ethnic Tutsi warlord Laurent Nkunda wrested control of a strategic camp in east DRC from government forces.

The camp is an important army base in Nord-Kivu, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of the provincial capital Goma.

Montas said UN chief Ban Ki-moon was "extremely concerned by the further  deterioration in the security situation in North Kivu, and in particular developments in Rumangabo and in Goma and its impact on civilians."

As many as 20,000 civilians fled fresh fighting in the area Monday, forming long columns heading towards Goma on foot, according to an AFP journalist.

Men, women and children were streaming out of the Kibumba area around 35 kilometers (20 miles) north of the regional capital.

Montas meanwhile said Ban slammed "deliberate attacks on MONUC peacekeepers" by Nkunda loyalists and denounced "the continued hostilities" between Nkunda's CNDP forces and government troops in violation of the ceasefire.

In a related development, DRC President Joseph Kabila on Monday named a new government of "combat and reconstruction" in a bid to pacify the giant central African country, hit by an upsurge in rebel violence.

Kabila sacked his defense and interior ministers in an apparent bid to shake up the military's response to the increasing threat posed by rebels in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo bordering Rwanda.

New DRC Defense Minister Charles Mwando will have the task of taking the fight to Nkunda forces that continued an offensive Monday and inched closer Goma.

During a visit here early this month, Briton Alan Doss, the UN special envoy to DRC and head of MONUC, urged the Security Council to provide his force with "a surge capacity, some additional troops (and air mobility assets)."

He refused to go into details," except to say that an "enhanced capacity to detect movements of groups in a difficult terrain" such as drones would be useful in the face of increased rebel attacks.

Monday, Ban urged the DRC government and Nord-Kivu provincial authorities to make every effort to restore calm among the affected populations and to work in close cooperation with MONUC.

He reaffirmed that MONUC "will take all necessary measures within its mandate to protect civilians and United Nations personnel and property."

The UN chief called on all parties to "immediately cease hostilities and pursue in good faith in efforts to resolve peacefully the issues that have thus far hindered progress in the Nairobi and Goma (peace) processes."

Montas said the UN department of peacekeeping operations was making arrangements "to ensure continuity of command and to replace General Diaz as quickly as possible."

In the interim, Brigadier General Ishmeel Ben Quartey of Ghana will serve as acting force commander pending the appointment of General Diaz’s successor, she added.

Renewed fighting broke out August 28 with government troops and Nkunda's CNDP violating a ceasefire reached under the Goma peace accord in January.

Nkunda has accused the DRC army of colluding with Rwandan Hutu rebels of the the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) in the Nord-Kivu region.

A 2007 Nairobi agreement between the DRC and Rwanda provides for the repatriation of the Rwandan rebels, by force if necessary.

The FDLR comprises some 6,000 Rwandan Hutus who fled into the DRC following the genocide of Rwandan Tutsis by Hutus in 1994. They are seen as one of the main threats to peace in the country's restive eastern region.

Date created : 2008-10-27