With peace efforts under way with the M23, the United Nations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is shifting its focus to other rebel groups and working with the Government to maintain the fragile gains in the eastern part of the country, the Security Council was told today.
“We will go on with this fight against all armed groups,” Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the country, Martin Kobler said, referring to the UN peacekeeping force in the DRC (MONUSCO) which he heads.
“I brought a message of hope to the Security Council. I think the situation is different now in the DRC after the end of the fight against the M23,” he told journalists after the briefing, but cautioned that military successes much be backed by civilian determination and access to services such as health care and education otherwise “we will go back to square one.”
The M23 – composed of soldiers who mutinied from the DRC national army in April – along with other armed groups, has clashed repeatedly with the FARDC. At various times, UN officials have also deplored the activities of other armed groups in the region, including Mayi Mayi, the FDLR, the National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (NALU) and the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF).
In March, the Security Council authorized the deployment of an intervention brigade within MONUSCO to carry out targeted offensive operations, with or without the Congolese national army, against armed groups that threaten peace in eastern DRC.
Around 1,500 to 1,800 combatants are estimated to be members of the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda), one of the groups MONUSCO is focusing on, along with ADF in the north.
Mr. Kobler described a “wave of surrenders” among rebels, 70 per cent of whom are below the age of 30, and who are eager to return to civilian life.
He noted, however, that unlike the M23, the FDLR is a smaller group that continues to live among civilian populations making the offensive more difficult.
“The operation started on 27 November, and yesterday and the day before, progress was made to clear areas and streets of FDLR positions,” Mr. Kobler said.
Among recent successes, he said for the first time in years, MONUSCO forces were able to reopen a street from Pinga in the North Kivu towards the provincial capital of Goma: “From yesterday on, people can bring their vegetables to the Goma market, they can visit their families outside the area after a two-year paralysis.”
After a failure last month between the M23 and the Government to sign an official political agreement, the Secretary-General's Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region, Mary Robinson, said it is hoped that the document will be cosigned tomorrow by Presidents Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Malawi's Joyce Banda, who is also the chairperson for the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
The agreement is part of ongoing talks between the M23 and the Government, held in Kampala, Uganda, under the auspices of Mr. Museveni as mediator and Chairperson of the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), as well as Ugandan Defence Minister and Facilitator, Crispus Kiyonga.
The Special Envoy also stressed the importance of the 11-nation Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the DRC and the Region, which she has dubbed a “framework of hope.”
“It's time for the people of the region to feel that the framework is making a difference in their lives through a peace dividend,” Mrs. Robinson told journalists in New York.
Also speaking to the press, Ambassador Gerard Araud of France, which holds the Council's rotating presidency for December said today's briefing by Mr. Kobler and Mrs. Robinson was “the most positive ... of the year.”
“Let's not see the world in a rosy manner but this has been a positive development,” he said. “When you look where we had been eight months ago, beginning of 2013, I think it's quite a feat to see where we are right now.”
Today's briefing comes a week after the UN launched its first-ever unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), in the interest of better protecting civilians, in the eastern part of DRC.
Hervé Ladsous, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, who was in Goma at the time and also participated in today's briefing, said that the deployment of the unarmed aircraft, authorized by the Security Council last spring, is still evolving, but is starting with two UAVs. The goal is to have the craft up around the clock and adequately cover all the terrain in the relevant DRC provinces.