On Tuesday, the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) published a statement saying the rebels around the eastern city of Goma should either disarm or face “the use of force.”
MONUSCO gave the M23 rebels around Goma until 4:00 pm (2000 GMT) on Thursday “to hand in their weapon to a MONUSCO base,” or the peacekeeping mission would use its new mandate against them for the first time.
The statement said after the deadline the rebels would be “considered an imminent threat of physical violence to civilians and MONUSCO will take all necessary measures to disarm them, including by the use of force in accordance with its mandate and rules of engagement.”
The mandate of the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo, known as MONUSCO, was recently renewed by the UN Security Council. The new mandate allows the creation of a special unit, called the Force Intervention Brigade, to carry out targeted offensive operations against armed groups rather than merely protecting civilians.
The M23 rebels seized Goma on November 20, 2012 after UN peacekeepers gave up the battle for the frontier city of one million people. M23 fighters withdrew from the city on December 1 under a ceasefire accord.
The M23 rebels defected from the Congolese Army in April 2012 in protest over alleged mistreatment in the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC). They had previously been integrated into the Congolese army under a peace deal signed in 2009.
Since early May 2012, nearly 3 million people have fled their homes in the eastern Congo. About 2.5 million have resettled in Congo, but more than 460,000 have crossed into neighboring Rwanda and Uganda.
Congo has faced numerous problems over the past few decades, such as grinding poverty, crumbling infrastructure, and a war in the east of the country that has dragged on since 1998 and left over 5.5 million people dead.