KINSHASA — The United Nations mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, says it is seeing more signs that the rebel M23 movement is getting support from Rwanda. The head of the mission has called for all such support to stop immediately.
The U.N.’s special representative in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Roger Meece, who’s in charge of the U.N. mission here, says it is clear that the M23 rebel forces are much stronger than anyone thought a few weeks ago.
"The M23 forces appear to be very well equipped, well provisioned with significant arms. We’ve already seen reports of support coming from outside the country - notably Rwanda. It’s very important that all external support stop immediately," he said
Speaking to journalists in Kinshasa on Tuesday, the special representative added that the U.N. mission has seen additional signs in recent days, beyond what’s already been reported by the U.N. Group of Experts on the Congo, indicating Rwandan support for the M23.
He cited indications such as that M23 soldiers have been seen wearing different uniforms and different equipment from the Congolese army uniforms and equipment they would have had before they mutinied.
He said they were also using more sophisticated tactics than the Congolese army normally uses, such as night attacks.
The M23 have declared they are pulling back from Rutshuru, a town in eastern Congo which they occupied at the weekend, to the strategic border town of Bunagana, which they captured after heavy fighting on Friday.
Meece said the U.N. is trying to verify this declaration.
"We have seen what appears to be an evacuation of the combatants or a removal of the combatants from the town of Rutshuru. But we are taking active measures, including reconnaisance flights, and any information that we can get to determine exacthly what they are doing, to verify whether it is in fact toward Bunagana or whether it might be something else," Meece said.
Meece added that the U.N. is taking all necessary measures, including deploying armored units, in cooperation with the Congolese army, to protect the North Kivu provincial capital of Goma, and other major population centers in the area.
The M23 started as a mutiny among certain units of the Congolese army in April.
The special representative said the mutiny has worsened inter-community tensions in eastern Congo. He noted reports of violence against members of the Tutsi community in Goma, as well as reports that civilians in Goma have been asking the authorities to give them weapons.
He suggested this was a worrying development.
"The recourse to arms, by anyone at all, does not represent a solution to the problems. And it is always the civilian population that suffers the most," Meece said.
Meece confirmed that the U.N. has been using helicopters for aerial bombardment of M23 positions and said this was done to protect civilians from further rebel advances.
He said he was not aware of any active negotiations going on between the M23 and the DRC government at the moment. He said the U.N. would be ready - with the agreement of the DRC government - to facilitate negotiations.