By Aaron Maasho and Pascal Fletcher
The Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and neighbouring states called on Thursday for the creation of an international military force to eliminate armed rebels in the DRC’s turbulent east. Their agreement, signed on the sidelines of an African Union summit in Addis Ababa, proposes an internationally-backed military response to an offensive by rebels in the DRC’s North Kivu province, a political and ethnic tinderbox.
The document was signed by the foreign ministers of nearly a dozen states of the Great Lakes region, including the DRC and Rwanda, and condemned recent advances by the Tutsi-led M23 rebel movement and a rebellion by predominantly Hutu fighters of the FDLR insurgent group in North and South Kivu. It was not immediately clear in the text, to be presented to African heads of state at the Addis summit, where the troops would come from to establish the “neutral international force” that would take on the Congolese rebel groups.
U.N. and Congolese army helicopters used rockets and machinegun fire Thursday to pound rebel positions in the villages of Rumangabo and Bukima, U.N. officials and witnesses said. The United Nations has a large peacekeeping mission in the Congo but has often been hard pressed to halt fighting. An Indian peacekeeper was killed last week during clashes.
The DRC’s government, whose army has retreated in disarray before the advancing M23 rebels over the last week, had accused neighbour Rwanda of fomenting and supporting the rebellion, which began as a mutiny by former rebels in the government army. Rwanda strenuously denies supporting the M23, though U.N. investigators have produced evidence to back the allegations that senior Rwandan military officials provided backing for the rebels.
In the document signed on Thursday, the states grouped in the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region proposed working with the AU and the United Nations to create “a neutral international force to eradicate M23, FDLR and all other negative forces in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo”. The document said “no support should be given to any negative forces”.