New York - Rebels in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have set up their own mini-state, even imposing their own taxes, a top UN official said on Tuesday.
The UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous described the "de facto administration" he said the M23 rebels have set up as the UN Security Council called for greater efforts to ease tensions between DRC and neighbouring Rwanda.
The UN experts and the DRC government accuse Rwanda of backing the rebels who launched an uprising in April. Rwanda has denied involvement, and the leaders of the two countries could meet at a UN summit on the crisis next week.
The M23 is led by Bosco Ntaganda, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, and has taken territory in North Kivu province near the border with Rwanda and Uganda.
Ladsous told reporters after a Security Council meeting on the crisis that there had been "a lull" in major fighting in the past five or six weeks but added that "clearly this can change very quickly and in many directions."
UN peacekeepers using helicopter gunships have helped DRC troops keep the M23 away from Goma, capital of the resource-rich region.
Ladsous, who had just returned from a trip to DRC, Rwanda and Uganda, also indicated that M23 was becoming increasingly entrenched around its base in the town of Rutshuru.
"They are already establishing a sort of de facto administration, controlling population, taking 'taxes' from people who pass through, and that of course is hardly acceptable," Ladsous said.
The UN assistant secretary general said all sides had to work towards a permanent end to hostilities as there have been "too many victims, too much suffering, too many displaced persons and refugees. This has to stop."
He also said the sovereignty of DRC "has to be respected" and called for renewed efforts to rebuild confidence between Kinshasa and Kigali which, with regional backing, have agreed to a neutral force to monitor their border.
But Ladsous said: "At the moment it is just a concept that needs to be worked on, and I promised UN help to work on this."
With nearly half a million civilians displaced by the new conflict in eastern DRC, there is now growing pressure for progress to be made at the UN summit on the crisis in New York on September 27.
DRC's President Joseph Kabila and Rwanda's Paul Kagame are both expected in New York to attend the UN General Assembly, Ladsous said.
DRC has asked the UN Security Council to impose sanctions against Rwanda's defence minister and two top generals for supporting the M23 rebels.
UN experts have said Rwanda has provided fighters and guns for the rebel offensive and named Defense Minister James Kaberebe among those helping M23.
Security Council members want a political solution to the crisis, Germany's UN ambassador Peter Wittig, president of the council for September, told reporters after the meeting.
"I detect a will to strengthen the political dialogue and not to focus on sanctions at this point in time," Wittig said.
"Dialogue, confidence building and co-operation between Kinshasa and Kigali are urgently needed to address also the root causes of the conflict."