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UN, Congolese Troops Preparing to Launch Anti-FDLR Operations

FILE - United Nations peacekeepers record details of weapons recovered from the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) militants.

United Nations peacekeepers and the Congolese military are preparing to launch operations against the Rwandan Hutu rebel group, the FDLR, based in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

On Wednesday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke by telephone with DRC President Joseph Kabila. Ban’s spokesman said the secretary-general reiterated that the FDLR has failed to deliver on its promise to disarm by a January 2 deadline and called for “decisive action” against the group. Ban welcomed Kabila’s assurance that his government is ready to take action with U.N. assistance.

A senior U.N. official said Wednesday that the U.N. mission - known by its acronym MONUSCO - and the Congolese government will sign a document “very soon” authorizing the operation.

“With the end of the deadline on Friday,” the official said, “the emphasis now clearly, and the expectation of the [U.N.] Security Council is clearly, that military action has to start.”

The official, who requested anonymity, told a small group of reporters that the operation would likely “take months.” The rebels number only about 1,500 but live with their families in the bush among other civilians making it difficult to target them.

The FDLR includes among its ranks Rwandan Hutu militants who took part in that country's 1994 genocide against the Tutsis, as well as a large number of Congolese fighters. The group holds a significant amount of territory in the mineral-rich eastern Kivus and is responsible for attacks and abuses on civilians.

On Monday, U.N.-backed Congolese troops took control of several bases that belonged to the Burundian rebel group FNL in South Kivu province. The U.N. official said that operation “was clearly always intended to be a pre-cursor operation” to a wider anti-FDLR offensive.

The official said that the U.N. has started an intensive communications campaign to urge rebels to surrender and is working with humanitarian partners to assist civilians who may become displaced by the military operation.

The U.N. has a 20,000-strong force in Congo, which includes an “Intervention Brigade” tasked with neutralizing armed groups. In 2013, the Congolese army backed by Intervention Brigade units succeeded in defeating another armed group, the M23.