Security in Congo’s mineral-rich east is deteriorating with rebel group expanding territory, UN says

People displaced by the ongoing fighting between Congolese forces and M23 rebels gather in a camp on the outskirts of Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, Wednesday, March 13, 2024, Ramesh Rajasingham, OCHA (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) head and representative is carrying out a working visit to the region. (AP Photo/Moses Sawasawa)

People displaced by the ongoing fighting between Congolese forces and M23 rebels gather in a camp on the outskirts of Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, Wednesday, March 13, 2024, Ramesh Rajasingham, OCHA (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) head and representative is carrying out a working visit to the region. (AP Photo/Moses Sawasawa)

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Security in Congo’s mineral-rich east has deteriorated since recent elections, with a rebel group allegedly linked to neighboring Rwanda making “significant advances and expanding its territory,” the U.N. special envoy for the conflict-wracked African nation said Wednesday.

Bintou Keita told the U.N. Security Council this has created “an even more disastrous humanitarian situation, with internal displacement reaching unparalleled numbers.”

Last month, the United States told Rwanda and Congo that they “must walk back from the brink of war,” the sharpest warning yet of a looming conflict.

U.S. deputy ambassador Robert Wood again condemned “the aggressive military incursion” into eastern Congo by the M23 rebel group and the Rwandan Defense Force and attacks including on U.N. peacekeepers.

He called on the leaders of Rwanda and Congo “to make the decision to pursue peace — for the sake of their people, the region and the world.”

Wood described M23 as “a group which has perpetrated appalling human rights abuses against civilians, including sexual and gender-based violence.”

He called the international community’s failure to condemn the actions of Rwanda, which is a major troop contributor to U.N. peacekeeping forces, “dismaying” and said “the U.N. should reevaluate Rwanda’s credibility as a constructive partner in peacekeeping.”

The U.S. State Department last month called for the withdrawal of Rwanda’s troops and surface-to-air missile systems from eastern Congo and criticized M23, calling it a “Rwanda-backed” armed group.

The Rwandan Foreign Ministry said last month that the country’s troops are defending Rwandan territory as Congo carries out a “dramatic military build-up” near the border.

The ministry’s statement said Rwanda’s national security is threatened by the presence in Congo of an armed group whose members include alleged perpetrators of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda during which more than 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutus who tried to protect them were killed.

The rebel group, known by its initials FDLR, “is fully integrated into” the Congolese army, the statement said. Although Rwanda has long cited a threat posed by FLDR, authorities there had never admitted to a military presence in eastern Congo.

Wood said the U.S. recognizes the FDLR “is a continuing threat to the Congolese people and a security threat to Rwanda that must be addressed.”

At Wednesday’s council meeting the Congolese and Rwandan ambassadors again went after each other.

Congolese Ambassador Zenon Ngay Mukongo called the M23 and Rwandan forces a “coalition of the axis of evil.”

He said a meeting of heads of state is planned for April and Congo is seeking lasting peace throughout the country and that it “will not accept window-dressing arrangements aimed at perpetuating insecurity and confusion” which encourages the M23 and Rwanda’s “shameless exploitation of strategic minerals” in eastern Congo.

Rwandan Ambassador Ernest Rwamucyo reiterated his government’s serious concerns about the FDLR and called for Congo to resolve the security issues involving many rebel groups themselves.

“We should also raise awareness about the dangers of genocide, the ideology, which has spilled over into the DRC,” the initials of Congo’s official name, the Democratic Republic of Congo, he said.

Keita, the U.N. envoy, told the council that mediation by Angola between the countries has resumed.

In response to a question afterward by reporters about Wednesday’s confrontation between the ambassadors, she said, she strongly believes this mediation and other efforts to reduce tensions should be supported “in spite of the displeasure that we saw” in the council.

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