The U.N. Security Council has broadened the reach of an arms embargo on rebel forces operating in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
By a unanimous vote, the council approved a resolution expanding the reach of an arms embargo to cover all rebel groups and militia operating in the vast eastern Congo region.
The French-sponsored measure imposes a travel ban and assets freeze on anyone violating the embargo. It specifically exempts soldiers and police who have been integrated into the national army.
The council first imposed the embargo nearly two years ago. But fighting has continued, despite the presence of 16,500 U.N. peacekeepers. The resolution expresses concern that armed groups continue to operate freely in eastern Congo, particularly in the sprawling north and south Kivu regions and the Ituri district.
The Democratic Republic of Congo's U.N. ambassador, Ileka Atoki, welcomed passage of the resolution. But he scoffed at a reporter's suggestion that nearly 17,000 troops, one of the largest U.N. peacekeeping forces, could stop fighting in an area nearly the size of Europe. "This is something we have always said. We cannot have 17,000 troops for a country as large as Europe. It's ridiculous," he said.
The Democratic Republic of Congo became a battleground during a civil war that raged from 1998 to 2002. An estimated three million people died, 50,000 of them as a direct result of fighting, the rest from hunger and disease.
While relative calm has been restored in much of the country, violence continues, mostly in the eastern regions bordering Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi. A 2003 peace agreement calls for elections in June of this year, but an independent electoral commission has said the vote will probably have to be delayed because of instability and violence in the east.