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Rebels close in as UN mulls response

Video by Luke SHRAGO , Marina BERTSCH

Text by AFP

Latest update : 2008-10-30

The UN Security Council slammed the rebel advance in eastern Congo, as they close in on the key city of Goma in the region of Kivu. UN forces have dug in even as government troops and tens of thousands of civilians fled.

FRANCE 24 correspondent Arnaud Zajtman describes the hardships facing the Congo's north-eastern population.

 

The Security Council on Wednesday slammed a rebel push in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo as UN planners vowed to redeploy blue helmets to better protect a provincial capital abandoned by government troops.
   
The 15-member body unanimously adopted a non-binding statement that condemns the recent offensive by a force loyal to ethnic Tutsi warlord Laurent Nkunda and "demands that it brings its operations to an end."
   
It also expressed concern at "reports to heavy weapons fire across the Democratic Republic of Congo-Rwanda border."
   
The statement was adopted after UN peacekeeping supremo Alain Le Roy briefed the council on the advance by forces Nkunda loyalists on the provincial capital of Goma, which forced DRC government troops and tens of thousands of civilians to flee in panic.
   
The rebels late Wednesday declared a unilateral ceasefire even though the collapse of government resistance left UN troops -- who earlier used helicopter gunships to stall the rebel advance -- as the only obstacle to a complete takeover of Goma, capital of North Kivu province.
   
Le Roy said after attending an emergency session of the council that an estimated 800 troops of the UN mission in DRC (MONUC) were currently patrolling Goma.
   
"We are trying to bring additional troops to protect the civilians in Goma in the coming three to seven days," he told reporters.
   
The extra troops would be redeployed from other parts of eastern DRC, he noted as the Security Council vowed to study "expeditiously" a UN request for troop reinforcements for MONUC "in view of developments on the ground."
   
Le Roy meanwhile said the UN was not in a position to determine who started an exchange of heavy weapons fire across the DRC-Rwanda border.
   
He confirmed that mortar fire from the Rwandan side hit a MONUC base in Kibumba, located 35 kilometers (20 miles) north of Goma.
   
The Council statement also called on the leaders of DRC and Rwanda "to take concrete steps to defuse tensions and to restore stability in the region."
   
UN chief Ban Ki-moon, on a visit to the Philippines, said Wednesday he sent envoys to DRC and Rwanda to urge their leaders to end their feud and help ease mounting tension along their common border.
   
In a clear warning to Nkunda not to send his forces into Goma, the council meanwhile expressed "grave concern" about the dramatic humanitarian consequences of the recent fighting and stated that "any attack against the civilian population, including at major population centers, is totally unacceptable."
   
The 17,000-strong MONUC has roughly 6,000 troops deployed in North Kivu to bolster weak government forces in their battle with disciplined, Nkunda forces.
   
France's UN Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert told reporters that European Union foreign ministers would meet in Brussels Monday to discuss various options to bolster MONUC.
   
And French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said earlier Wednesday that Paris backed sending an EU battle group of up to 1,500 troops to DRC.
   
This follows a call by DRC President Joseph Kabila for the dispatch of a "multinational force" to beef up MONUC.
   
In a related development, Jendayi Frazer, the US assistant secretary of state for African affairs, urged Nkunda forces to halt their march to Goma and abide by previous peace accords.
   
She rejected claims by Nkunda that his forces were fighting to protect the Tutsi minority in North Kivu.
   
The government in Kinshasa has accused Rwanda of actively supporting Nkunda.
   
Nkunda has claimed that DRC army troops are colluding with Rwandan Hutu rebels of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) who have been based in eastern DRC for the past 12 years and are seen as a major source of instability in the Great Lakes region.
   
But the DRC army has consistently denied fighting alongside the FDLR, which fields some 6,000 fighters, according to UN estimates.
   
Many FDLR members are suspected of taking part in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda that, according to the United Nations, claimed the lives of 800,000 ethnic minority group Tutsis and moderates of the majority group Hutus.

Date created : 2008-10-30

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