UN: Joint operation against Congo rebels “imminent.”
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The top U.N. envoy in Congo said Thursday President Joseph Kabila assured him his approval of a joint U.N.-Congolese military operation against a rebel group that failed to surrender by a Jan. 2 deadline is “imminent.”
Congo has been facing deadly protests over a proposed law that the opposition fears will prolong Kabila’s time in power, raising concerns that his approval for action against the rebels will be delayed.
Martin Kobler said Kabila will sign the document required to authorize the operation against rebels known as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda shortly and that the operation “will start very soon.”
The U.N. peacekeeping force in eastern Congo could move alone against the rebels, but Kobler said the force cannot hold any gains alone.
Kobler spoke to reporters after briefing the U.N. Security Council on his weekend meeting with Kabila.
The U.N. has made it clear in recent weeks that it is ready to move right away against the FDLR, which has threatened Congo’s eastern region for more than two decades. An adviser to Kabila last week called the use of force “inevitable.”
The rebel group was formed by the remnants of Hutus from Rwanda who were responsible for the 1994 genocide there. Rwanda’s president last week lamented that the international community was not doing more to squash the rebels once and for all.
Eastern Congo is home to a number of armed groups and militias, many competing for control of the region’s vast mineral resources. Kobler has said security in the region has vastly improved in recent months, but the situation remains fragile, and the key to peace is to disarm the FDLR’s remaining fighters.
The U.N. estimates that between 1,400 and 2,000 of the fighters remain. Kobler said Thursday that 18 assembly areas have been set up for fighters who wish to give themselves up for repatriation and that Rwanda “is ready to accept them.”
The pressure to move against the rebels comes as Kabila’s government wants a smaller U.N. peacekeeping force in the country after its 15 years there. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has recommended reducing the force by 10 percent this year, but Kabila wants “deeper cuts,” U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told the Security Council.