By Catherine Ageno
The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has expressed deep concern over the escalation in the fighting between government troops in the Democratic Republic of Congo and M23 rebels in the east of the country.
He notes that the past ten days have seen multiple civilians killed, massive displacement, and four peacekeepers from the UN Stabilization Mission (MONUSCO) injured.
The Secretary-General urges the M23 and other armed groups to immediately cease hostilities and to disarm unconditionally.
He calls for the respect of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.”
Over the weekend, according to news reports, the DRC ordered the Rwandan ambassador to leave the country within 48 hours, after accusing Kigali once again of supporting the M23 rebels, a claim which has been repeatedly denied by Rwanda.
The Secretary-General called for immediate de-escalation and reiterated the full support of the United Nations for the ongoing mediation”, which is being led by the Angolan president, and the Organization’s support for the Nairobi process, being led by former Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta.
Guterres, says he has spoken with the President of Angola, João Lourenço, DRC President, Félix Tshisekedi, the President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, the President of Kenya, William Ruto, and the President of Senegal, Macky Sall, as Chairperson of the African Union.
The latest advance from the M23 militia formed in 2012 to defend the interests of Congolese Tutsis against Hutu armed groups, saw the rebels reportedly seize two towns, consolidating months of gains since its resurgence last year, after commanders – many of whom had joined the national army – accused the Government of failing to honour a demobilization agreement.
Two UN peacekeepers were injured by mortar fire and two others by small arms during attacks by M23 on Saturday on one of the reportedly captured towns, Kiwanja in North Kivu, carrying out their protection mandate.
Mr. Guterres also called on all parties to facilitate humanitarian access across eastern DRC, “and to ensure protection of civilians and respect for international humanitarian law. He also calls on all actors to refrain from hate speech and incitement to violence.”
The UN chief reiterated that the UN, through his Special Representative and head of MONUSCO, Bintou Keita, would continue to support the Congolese Government and the people overall, “in their efforts to bring about peace and stability in the east of the country.”