In calls with the leaders of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today expressed grave concern over reports that an armed group of former soldiers in the eastern DRC is receiving external support, according to Mr. Ban’s spokesperson.
The group, known as M23 and composed of renegade soldiers who mutinied in April, is reportedly led by Bosco Ntaganda, an army general wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of war crimes for recruiting and using children in combat in the DRC’s north-east in 2002-2003.
Along with the neighbouring province of South Kivu in eastern DRC, North Kivu province has witnessed increased fighting between Government troops – known by the French acronym FARDC – and the M23, which has displaced more than 100,000 people, including many who have fled to neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda.
“The Secretary-General called President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of the Congo today to discuss the deteriorating humanitarian and security situation in eastern DRC and identify possible steps to resolve the crisis,” Mr. Ban’s spokesperson said in a note to journalists.
“Stressing the need do everything possible to dissuade the M23 from making further advances and to cease fighting immediately, the Secretary-General urged Presidents Kagame and Kabila to pursue dialogue in order to defuse tensions and bring an end to the crisis,” the spokesperson added, noting reports that the M23 fighters are well-trained, armed and equipped, in addition to receiving external support.
Along with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the UN Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) has reiterated its concern about the deterioration in the security and humanitarian situation in North Kivu, as well as the impact of the fighting on the civilian population.
In addition to reinforcing its peacekeepers in Goma, the capital of North Kivu, MONUSCO has been conducting aerial reconnaissance flights over areas where M23 is present, in order to obtain tactical information and verify reports.
The Mission’s ‘blue helmets’ have also increased efforts to protect civilians, including through intensified patrols. Last week, an Indian peacekeeper was killed in North Kivu, when he was caught in a cross-fire in clashes between the FARDC and M23 fighters.
The Secretary-General and the Security Council have both expressed concern over the situation in the eastern DRC over recent days, while the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has previously described the M23 group as being led by a “particularly notorious group of human rights violators.”
In late June, the Security Council extended MONUSCO for another year, focussing on its priority mandate of protecting civilians. MONUSCO supports the DRC authorities in their stabilization and peace consolidation efforts, including assisting with the holding of elections, the monitoring of human rights violations and support for Government action against armed groups operating in the country’s east.