The alarming resurgence of armed groups, including the 23 March Movement (M23), is threatening the security and stability of the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the entire region, and endangering United Nations Mission personnel on the ground, the top United Nations official in the country warned the Security Council today.

Bintou Keita, Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Head of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), noted the security situation in the East has unfortunately deteriorated, especially due to intensified attacks by M23 against civilians, national security forces and MONUSCO. Further attacks are being carried out by the Allied Democratic Forces, the Cooperative for Development of the Congo (CODECO) and other armed groups in Ituri and North Kivu Provinces, undermining recent progress the positive dynamic in recent years between Kinshasha and Kigali. She stressed that M23 is now behaving increasingly like a conventional army, with sophisticated firepower and equipment — an obvious threat to civilians and peacekeepers, nine of whom recently lost their lives.

As the Congolese army and MONUSCO have shifted personnel, other armed groups have sought to take advantage of the resulting security vacuum — with more than 150 civilians killed between 28 May and 17 June, and 700,000 people displaced, she said. There was also an increase in hate speech, particularly targeting Congolese Rwandophone population groups. Urging Kinshasha and Kigali to seize the upcoming summit to be hosted by President João Lourenço of Angola in Luanda, she welcomed Kinshasha’s consultations with local armed groups, which expressed their willingness to lay down their weapons. She also quoted Zawede, an 11-year-old girl from Kivua, who wrote a slam for children — an expression of love and hope for her country, but also of acute pain over the abandonment by adults in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the quarter century of “sweat, tears and blood”.

Julienne Lusenge, President of Female Solidarity for Integrated Peace and Development, Democratic Republic of the Congo, also detailed the worsening security situation in her country due to terrorism by armed groups. Describing the situation on the ground, she recounted the experience of Furaha, who, after providing ransom money for a family member who was kidnapped, was tied up, beaten, stripped of her clothes and asked by her kidnappers to cook, and together with other prisoners, eat the flesh of a Nande man killed by the CODECO militia.

She went on to outline several recommendations to the Council, including effective protection of the civilian population, especially in the east, in the run-up to the elections. The Council must act so that Rwanda’s problems with the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda are dealt with in that country and not in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Further, the Council should stop applauding the country which is causing deaths and sexual violence against women and girls through the illegal exploitation of her country’s resources. The United Nations must act effectively to set up international justice mechanisms and stop turning a blind eye to the deaths in her country.

In the ensuing discussion, delegates condemned the escalation of violence, while country representatives from the region traded accusations over the drivers of the instability.

The United States’ delegate encouraged all Congolese groups to participate in the disarmament, demobilization, community reinsertion and stabilization programme without conditions, and for foreign armed groups to return to their countries or origin. The human consequences of violence in the East are horrific, with armed groups in Ituri killing nearly 800 civilians in this month’s reporting period alone. He also expressed alarm over a Rwanda statement questioning MONUSCO impartiality, as any commentary encouraging hostility towards peacekeepers is unacceptable, as is rhetoric that might encourage violence again peacekeepers or people of Rwandan origin in the east.

Ghana’s representative, also speaking for Gabon and Kenya, welcomed Kinshasha’s commitment to hold elections in 2023 in a challenging security environment — as well the outcomes of the Conclaves process, including the participation of some armed groups. He also stressed that the current notification requirement on the sanctions regime remains an “unnecessary bureaucratic impediment” that infringes on the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s sovereignty, and impedes its ability to curb the activities of armed groups.

The representative of Albania, Council President for June, speaking in her national capacity, stressed that any new actor deployed on the ground to fight armed militant groups should operate in close cooperation with MONUSCO. As relations between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda may affect diplomatic outreach between countries of the region, she encouraged both countries to avoid provoking further tensions. She also voiced concern over the numerous foreign groups operating in the Democratic Republic of the Congo — “and the allegations that several States and actors are, in some way, behind this”.

Burundi’s delegate hailed the courage and commitment of the MONUSCO office in a difficult context and called for greater attention from the international community and the Council in particular. Citing the core principle of African solutions to African problems, he urged for a regional approach to a peaceful resolution of conflicts. The fight against armed groups and local and foreign terrorists in the east, as well as proxy wars, must remain a priority for the States of the region with particular attention on the legitimate demands of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in defence of its sovereignty.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo’s delegate said MONUSCO remains an important partner of his country in its pursuit for peace and stability. However, if it cannot be a deterrent on the ground, it will struggle to carry out its mandate, he stressed — calling on the Council to allocate sufficient resources. He said it appears possible to prepare for a well-organized 2023 election process, with authorities’ commitment to improve the electoral system and the promise of United Nations support. As for the security situation, he cited the Nairobi process under the leadership of Kenya and the African Union initiative to resolve the conflict between his country and Rwanda, mediated by Angola.

He noted the resurgence of M23 clearly looms large over the security situation, with a better arsenal of weapons than MONUSCO and the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC). He asked why the international community and the United Nations do not want to associate that group with Rwanda, stressing that its origins are well known. For more than 26 years, his countrymen have been massacred and raped in the illicit and mafia-like exploitation of his country’s resources, he stressed, calling for respect for his country’s borders, and condemnation of the criminal aggression of M23 against his country and all its supporters, starting with Rwanda and its President.

Rwanda’s delegate, however, pointed out that the resurgence of M23 has overshadowed the presence of more than 130 armed groups in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, including the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, founded by the former Government forces and militia that committed the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. He drew attention to the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s false allegations — especially that Rwanda backs M23 ‑ and stressed he rejected the propaganda narrative that countries of the region want to “Balkanize” the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Continued hate speech and calls for violence will lead to deterioration of the security situation, which means that MONUSCO may not successfully fulfil its mandate, he cautioned.

Also speaking today were representatives of France, Norway, Brazil, United Kingdom, India, Ireland, Mexico, China, Russian Federation and United Arab Emirates.

Source: UN Security Council

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