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UN Warns of ‘External Support’ of DRC Rebels

  • Margaret Besheer

A soldier from the M23 rebel group looks on as thousands of Congolese people listen during an M23 rally, in Goma, eastern Congo, Nov. 21, 2012

A soldier from the M23 rebel group looks on as thousands of Congolese people listen during an M23 rally, in Goma, eastern Congo, Nov. 21, 2012

The U.N.’s top official in the Democratic Republic of Congo has told the U.N. Security Council that rebels are receiving weapons and equipment from outside the DRC.

International concerns are high that the rebels who have entrenched themselves in the DRC’s mineral-rich eastern provinces are receiving assistance from foreign backers. A U.N. report made public on Wednesday, but leaked weeks ago, accused neighboring Rwanda and Uganda of providing the M23 rebel group with material support.

The U.N.’s top envoy in the DRC, Roger Meece, did not name any country during a video briefing from Congo. But he laid out some of his concerns and observations.

“The M23 forces are well provisioned, and well supplied with uniforms, and a variety of arms and munitions, many of which clearly have not come from existing FARDC [i.e., Armed forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo] stocks. They exhibit many characteristics of a strong, disciplined, established military force with sophisticated tactics and operations, including night operations, which are not characteristic of traditional performance,” Meece said.

Meece said MONUSCO, the 17,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force in the DRC, does not have the mandate or the means to investigate the situation. He noted other indications of outside support for the M23 rebels.

“We can and have reported our encounters with English-speaking officers, surprising weaponry and equipment being used, and other signs of external support,” Meece said.

French is the official language in the DRC, while English is widely spoken in Rwanda and Uganda.

On Tuesday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution that opens the door to new sanctions against individuals and entities that support the rebels as well as against rebel commanders. The sanctions are intended to cut off financing to spoilers, many of whom are linked to the exploitation of the DRC’s mineral wealth through the illicit trade of natural resources.

The council also called for the immediate withdrawal of the M23 from the regional capital, Goma. Since taking Goma on Tuesday, the rebels have moved into the town of Sake, 25 kilometers to the northwest.

Meece told the council that in addition to their military gains, the rebels have started setting up a formal governing structure in North Kivu and have executed resisting local officials. But despite these gains on the ground, he noted that the M23 does not have the full support of any ethnic group or community.

Meanwhile, the presidents of the DRC and Rwanda met Wednesday in Kampala under the auspices of the Ugandan president. U.N. officials say these talks are crucial to ending military operations and moving toward a political track in resolving the conflict.

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