U.N. says Congo again on brink, peacekeepers need to combat rebels

Fri Feb 22, 2013 1:30pm EST
 

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Democratic Republic of Congo's resource-rich east is again on the brink of a major conflict, a senior U.N. official warned on Friday as he urged the U.N. Security Council to urgently approve plans for a peace enforcement unit to combat armed rebel groups.

Roger Meece, head of the U.N. mission in Congo known as MONUSCO, told the Security Council that the creation of a peace enforcement unit within the peacekeeping force - which would be a new move for the United Nations - was "an urgently needed and important response to the existing situation on the ground."

Peace enforcement missions allow the use of lethal force in serious combat situations, while peacekeeping operations are intended to support and monitor an already existing ceasefire, diplomats and U.N. officials say.

The Congolese government has reached an uneasy truce in eastern Congo with M23 rebels and Uganda is now hosting peace talks, but Meece warned of "increased fears and rumors in the area of an imminent resumption of large-scale military actions."

"The overall situation is volatile and precarious, and could break down at any time into large-scale conflict without much, if any, prior warning," Meece said. "Our forces and resources are stretched very thin over a broad area."

"The M23 forces maintain an appearance of being well supplied, well provisioned, and well armed," said Meece, adding that the rebels continued to recruit "new combatants, including through the use of force and widespread recruitment of minors."

M23 began taking parts of eastern Congo early last year, accusing the government of failing to honor a 2009 peace deal. That deal ended a previous rebellion and led to the rebels' integration into the army. They have since deserted the army.

EXTERNAL SUPPORT   Continued...

 
M23 rebel fighters walk as they withdraw near the town of Sake, some 42 km (26 miles) west of Goma November 30, 2012. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic