KINSHASA, DRC — The United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Congo, known as MONUSCO, is denying accusations that its forces have allowed rebels in eastern Congo to advance unopposed. The mission says it has resisted, and will continue to resist, all threats to the civilian population including those from the M23 rebel movement.
Following the capture by the M23 rebels of two strategic towns in eastern Congo in the past few days, the U.N. is under pressure to declare whether it will stop further rebel advances.
Congolese and international media have reported that the mission has not been supporting the Congolese army robustly against the M23, who are dissident former units of the Congolese army.
MONUSCO deployed armored personal carriers at the town of Rutshuru Center last week, but the APCs did not open fire when the rebels walked into the town without resistance.
The Congolese army had already retreated from Rutshuru at that point.
MONUSCO’s military spokesman Colonel Felix Basse says MONUSCO was following its mandate at Rutshuru and elsewhere in the Congo of protecting civilians.
"In Rutshuru Center what happened - when the Congolese army withdrew from its position, no harassment happened, I mean there was no direct threat to the civilian population," he said.
Colonel Basse added that the M23 rebels know MONUSCO is committed to protecting civilians.
"We had to engage with our armored personnel carriers the M23 positions when we felt the civilian population might be under threat from the M23 rebellion, and we engaged the M23 with our attack helicopters when we felt that a threat was going to spill over to the civilians," he said.
The head of MONUSCO, Special representative Roger Meece, indicated on Tuesday that the mission regards Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, a town about 70 kilometers from Rutshuru Center as a key population center which must be defended.
He told journalists that MONUSCO was taking all necessary measures against threats, above all to population centers, including deploying armored units to block an advance on Goma and other towns.
A U.N. Indian peacekeeper was killed in heavy fighting at the town of Bunagana last Friday. The M23 rebels withdrew their forces from Rutshuru on Monday and have offered to negotiate with the government.
The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo accuses Rwanda of supporting the M23, an accusation Rwanda has denied. The U.N. special representative said the mission had received considerable information suggesting Rwandan support for the rebellion.