Congo’s M23 rebel group said Wednesday that its fighters are on “standby and ready to strike back” at the United Nations peace enforcement brigade, a day after the UN announced that it would start disarming anyone outside the national security forces who is caught with a firearm near the flash-point city of Goma, a rebel spokesman said Wednesday.
The announcement threatens to stir a violent showdown around the city, which is home to more than a million residents and the de facto headquarters of dozens of humanitarian agencies in the conflict torn region.
“Our freedom fighters are on standby, anyone who threatens us will be fought back” said Amani Kabasha, the rebel spokesman.
The UN peace keeping mission in Congo known as Monusco said Tuesday that it considers any individuals who aren’t members of the national security forces and who carries a firearms around the city and its northern suburbs “an imminent threat to civilians.”
A Monusco military spokesman warned the rebels against attacking peace keepers, saying that any attack would “constitute a war crime.”
Since March, the M23 rebels have been honing their combat skills and military skills to gird for battle with the brigade, the UN’s latest efforts to bring peace to the mineral-rich region. The rebels have been embroiled in sporadic clashes with the Congolese army near Goma for the past three weeks, displacing thousands of refugees.
Monusco accuses the rebels of using indiscriminate and indirect fire in recent clashes, resulting into civilian casualties. “In light of the high risk to the civilian population…, Monusco will support the FARDC (national army) in establishing a security zone in Goma and its northern suburbs” a Monusco spokesman said in a statement Tuesday.
The Congolese army has performed better in recent combat against the M23, pushing them several kilometers north of Goma. But the UN says the city remains within the rebels striking range. Military sources say the army’s improvement against the rebels is down to reorganization of its command structures as well as the deployment of two commando brigades in North Kivu with enhanced logistical supplies.
Lambert Mende, Congo’s information minister said that Monusco’s intervention will reinforce the national army’s already “strong” position in the offensive. “We have so far managed to push M23 rebels away from Goma on our own, the brigade’s assistance is welcome” Mr. Mende said.
Source: The Wall Street Journal