As a United Nations ultimatum to disarm fighters in the volatile region of eastern DR Congo expired on Thursday, peacekeepers began setting up a zone in and around the eastern city of Goma, where only Congolese troops can carry weapons.
UN peacekeepers began a new effort to disarm fighters in volatile eastern Congo on Thursday, setting up a zone where only the country’s security forces can now carry firearms.
The move is aimed at stabilizing the eastern city of Goma and areas around it – a zone that is home to more than 1 million people who have faced waves of rebellion and attacks from armed groups in recent years.
Earlier this week, the UN peacekeeping mission known as MONUSCO issued an ultimatum before beginning the disarming effort.
A conflict fuelled by natural wealth
“With the expiration of the 48-hour deadline, MONUSCO and Congolese armed forces will take up patrols to make sure that weapons are not being held by any unauthorized people,” MONUSCO spokesman Carlos Araujo told UN-run Radio Okapi on Thursday.
UN officials have emphasized that the weapons ban will not only apply to the M23 rebel group, which has posed the greatest threat in the region. The group briefly seized control of Goma last November. Peace talks with the government have repeatedly stalled.
In New York, UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said the security zone “is not an offensive operation and is not targeted at any one armed group.” He emphasized that the disarmament effort will protect civilians.
Renewed fighting in July
The security zone takes in Goma and northern suburbs including the neighbouring town of Sake.
MONUSCO has said that if groups such as M23 do not disarm "they will be considered an imminent threat of physical violence to civilians and MONUSCO will take all necessary measures to disarm them".
"We consider that this measure does not concern us," said M23 chief Bertrand Bisimwa. He said his fighters were not in the region south of Goma where much fighting has taken place recently.
The DRC has been wracked by violence and civil war since independence from Belgium in 1960, often fuelled by its vast mineral wealth and drawing in its neighbours.
These days fighting is centred in the east where armed groups have continued attacking and raping citizens.
The M23, a mainly Tutsi Congolese group founded in 2012, launched a new offensive against the DR Congo army outside Goma on July 14, but fighting has died down in the past week.
A new, heavily armed 3,000-strong UN intervention brigade has begun deploying in the region. It joins the 17,000 peacekeepers already deployed in the area with MONUSCO, the stabilisation force.
Its mission is to carry out offensive operations, alone or with Congolese troops, against rebel fighters.
The UN also said Thursday it had ordered its first unarmed surveillance drones from an Italian company to patrol volatile regions of eastern DRC.
Two decades of conflict
Goma is the capital of North Kivu province, which borders two of DR Congo's eastern neighbours, Rwanda and Uganda.
M23 rebels captured the city on November 20 last year, holding it for 10 days. They left only when leaders from the Great Lakes nations of central Africa promised fresh negotiations, opening the talks in the Ugandan capital Kampala.
UN experts and the DR Congo government have said Rwanda has supplied troops and military aid to the M23, allegations denied by Kigali.
Rwanda and DR Congo are both signatories to a UN-brokered peace and security framework signed in March agreeing not to interfere in each other's affairs.
The two countries have been involved in a long-running feud dating back to the 1994 genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda, whose ethnic Hutu killers later fled into the DRC.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)
Date created : 2013-08-02