AFRICANGLOBE – The planned offensive by United Nations Intervention Brigade on rebel movement M23 positions in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo this week is raising fears of a humanitarian crisis.
Aid workers have warned that the existing humanitarian crisis in the war-ravaged mineral rich eastern part of DRC could worsen if the UN hybrid force uses force to disarm the rebels, who have vowed to fight back if attacked.
The UN peacekeeping mission in DRC, Monusco, this week issued a 48-hour ultimatum for the rebels in the areas surrounding the city of Goma to disarm voluntarily ahead of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region summit in Nairobi.
The deadline lapsed on Thursday, with the rebels not only failing to disarm, but also accusing the ICGLR leaders of shying away from addressing the root causes of the conflict in DRC that stretches back to the 1960s.
M23 chief spokesman Rene Abandi said in Nairobi the solution to the conflict in Congo lay not in military means but dialogue, echoing his group’s president Bertrand Bisimwa’s sentiments that the movement was still open to talks with the DRC government.
But he warned that if attacked, the group was ready to fight back and defend its position.
The Congolese government forces and the UN Intervention Brigade, which consists of Tanzanian and South African forces, along with Monusco, are said to be taking strategic positions to engage the rebels.
The standoff between the UN and the rebels is likely to see civilians caught in the crossfire. Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya have warned that the decision by the UN to use force to disarm the rebels is likely to be catastrophic.
Rwanda was the first to raise the red flag over the planned offensive, which Monusco says will be aimed at creating a safe zone around Goma and surrounding areas for civilians. Kigali says the move is likely to complicate the peace process.
Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said Rwanda is worried that the threats from the UN could easily derail the peace talks going on in Kampala.
Ms Mushikiwabo told reporters that Rwanda opposes military action by the UN force and maintains the stand of the ICGLR summit.
“Rwanda believes, as the Great Lakes Region summit just concluded in Nairobi stressed, that the military aspect of the solution to eastern DR Congo insecurity should not jeopardise the political process, which all stakeholders believe is the only viable way out of the crisis,” she said.
“It is not so much about the mandate the UN force has, which Rwanda as a member of the regional body handling this matter, as signatory to the United Nations Framework, but especially as a member of the Security Council supported, rather it is about how wisely and efficiently this mandate is executed,” she added.
She noted that Rwanda still believes that the stalled talks in the Ugandan capital can be resurrected for the DRC government and and the rebels to iron out their grievances.
But DRC government spokesperson Lambert Mende also maintained that Kinshasa is still open to talks with all “negative” groups fighting inside DRC, including M23, even as the rebels blame the stalled talks in Kampala on President Joseph Kabila’s reluctance to listen to their grievances.
Mr Mende argued that his government is committed to the Kampala talks but it is opposed to external meddling, particularly from Rwanda, which was the main reason it pulled out of the talks.
During the ICGLR summit in Nairobi, regional leaders agreed on supporting the Kampala talks as the preferred channel to restore peace in eastern DRC.
Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta warned that the actions of the UN Intervention Brigade are likely to overlap regional peace efforts.
He called on the UN force to “strengthen rather than complicate and overlap” peace efforts initiated by regional states.
Rwanda’s Paul Kagame notably did not attend the Nairobi meeting, at which he was represented by Ms Mushikiwabo. Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni also emphasised the need for the Kampala talks to resume.
“The renewed fighting raises concern over the commitment of the parties to the [Kampala] talks. We want them to resume and conclude quickly,” President Museveni said.
Rwanda and Uganda have been accused of supporting the M23 rebels. While recent reports no longer accuse Uganda of backing the rebels, Rwanda has been repeatedly accused of continued support to the rebels.
While regional governments call for peace, reports from inside DRC indicate that all sides are gearing up for an offensive that is likely to once again plunge the troubled east of the vast nation into bloodshed.
Recent hostilities by government forces, with the alleged support of Monusco, against the rebels have already claimed the lives of dozens of civilians and displaced hundreds more.
The M23 say its proposals for the Kabila government are reasonable. “We have recognised the Kabila presidency, without looking at the flawed elections; we have said we will not change the Constitution,” Mr Abandi said.
Their proposals involve facilitating the return of thousands of the refugees and internally displaced persons to their homes as well as creating a national disaster centre in Kivu.
“Let us create a national reconciliation commission for people who have been fighting for decades to come together. Let us try to create a policy of addressing the problems that have faced some communities,” he added.
By: Edmund Kagire