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Ministers vow to eradicate DRC rebels

13 July 2012, 08:51

 Addis Ababa - Ministers from 11 African nations - including Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo - have called for the establishment of an international force to eliminate armed groups in the volatile eastern Congo, where the M23 militia is staging a rebellion causing a mass refugee exodus.

The grouping of foreign and defence ministers from nations near the Great Lakes region of Africa said there was a need to "put an end to the crisis" in the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to a statement released on Thursday.

The ministers pledged to work with the African Union and UN for the "immediate establishment of a neutral international force to eradicate M23, FDLR [militia] and all other negative forces in eastern DRC and patrol and secure the border zones."

A UN report released last month accuses Rwanda of arming and aiding M23, comprised largely of former rebels who were integrated into the Congolese army in 2009 but defected in April.

Congolese officials have echoed the allegations that Rwanda is fomenting trouble in the eastern region, although the government in Kigali denies any involvement.

Ugandan acting Foreign Minister Henry Okello said the international force would be "a combination of local indigenous troops supported by the UN," to be "strategically positioned between Rwanda and DRC to ensure border security".

Okello said Rwanda had given assurances that it was "willing to co-operate with the leaders of the DRC at any level, in any place and anywhere".

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who expressed "grave concern" over the report fingering Kigali, placed phone calls on Wednesday to both Rwandan President Paul Kagame and his Congolese counterpart Joseph Kabila, in an effort to end the hostilities.

The African Union is currently holding a key summit in Addis Ababa. Heads of state are expected to arrive soon for the high-level meetings on Saturday and Sunday.

Largest mission

M23, which kicked off its mutiny in April and has since seized towns near the border with Uganda, has said it was looking to negotiate with Kinshasa, although the group's exact grievances remain unclear.

The group is allegedly linked to Bosco Ntaganda, a renegade general wanted by the International Criminal Court. Congolese officials have said they want him arrested and sent to The Hague.

While the mutineers say they do not plan to attack Goma, a main city in the Kivu region of DRC, Congolese government forces - backed by UN peacekeepers - boosted their presence there, setting up patrols and surrounding the perimeter.

Even as there was an apparent stand-off by the city, there were reports of heavy fighting in other areas. Witnesses said UN and Congolese forces staged joint aerial attacks against M23 positions.

The UN peacekeeping in Congo, known as Monusco, is the largest such international mission in the world, with more than 20 000 troops.

The fighting between the rebels and the Congolese army has displaced more than 200 000 people in recent months, according to estimates by aid groups, with many fleeing to neighbouring Uganda and Rwanda.

"People in eastern Congo are now displaced for more than three months and they cannot go back to their homes without fearing for their lives or attacks on their families," said Aude Rigot, who works with the charity CARE in North Kivu Province.

"[People] urgently need food, water and hygiene support as well as shelter to protect them from the upcoming rainy season in September," she told dpa. "Some areas are already affected by a cholera outbreak."

Congo's last civil war, which ended in 2003, drew in eight nations on the continent and left more than 5 million people dead, mostly from disease and hunger.

The eastern region in particular has been prone to conflicts between armed groups, even in the years since the war formally concluded.

After the Rwandan genocide in 1994, when Hutu extremists killed some 800 000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus, the fighting spilled over the border into eastern DR Congo, where both ethnic groups also live.



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