UNITED NATIONS - The UN Security Council has announced plans to impose sanctions against leaders of the M23 rebel movement for its attacks on civilians in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
A recent UN report accused Rwanda’s defence minister, General James Kabarebe, of being the “de facto” commander of the M23 rebels in eastern DR Congo.
Friday’s Security Council statement called on M23 and other armed groups in the chronically unstable but resource-rich region, including the Rwandan army, to “immediately cease all forms of violence and other destabilising activities”.
“The Security Council expresses its intention to apply targeted sanctions against the leadership of the M23 and those acting in violation of the sanctions regime and the arms embargo,” it said.
It expressed “deep concern” that M23 was still receiving support from neighbouring countries.
“The Security Council demands that any and all outside support to the M23 as well as other armed groups cease immediately,” the statement said.
The council also called on all states in the region to condemn the M23 rebels and to work with the Kinshasa authorities to disarm all armed groups in the region. UN investigators accuse both Rwanda and Uganda, which border eastern DR Congo, of arming and supporting the M23 rebels, in a confidential report seen by AFP.
Rwanda has repeatedly denied accusations that it backs the fighters. The M23 rebel force is made up of former fighters in the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), an ethnic Tutsi rebel movement.
The force emerged after an unsuccessful attempt to integrate CNDP fighters into the Congolese army under a 2009 peace deal.
The Security Council statement came a day after the UN General Assembly elected Rwanda as a non-permanent member of the Security Council. It begins its two-year mandate in January.
And it follows an attack on Tuesday in which unidentified rebel fighters in eastern DR Congo wounded six Indian troops with MONUSCO, the UN mission there, as well as their interpreter.
In Friday’s statement the Security Council asked Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to propose ways to reinforce MONUSCO’s ability to protect civilians in the region.
MONUSCO has some 17,000 troops in the country, deployed mainly in the east.
About two weeks ago, M23 tried to seize Inshasa, a key transit point for goods in the eastern province of North Kivu.
The Inshasa district lies north of the Rutshuru district, which M23 fighters have controlled for several months.
A senior DR Congo army officer said Wednesday that M23 Tutsi fighters had formed an alliance with the mainly Hutu Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) in a bid to win more territory from a local militia.
Some members of the FDLR have been accused of involvement in the 1994 genocide of Tutsis and moderate Hutus in neighbouring Rwanda.
Both UN investigators and rights groups have accused M23 fighters of raping women and girls.
They have also been accused of abducting young men and boys to use as child soldiers, killing any who try to escape.
On Thursday, staff at a hospital in Goma, the North Kivu capital, said 5,000 women had been raped this year alone in the province.
The head of the M23’s political wing, Jean-Marie Runiga, denied Thursday that the group had committed rights abuses.