Top envoy warns fighting in DRC threatens stability of entire region

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Anjali Sharma

GG News Bureau
UNITED NATIONS, 21st Feb.
UN Special Representative and the head of the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo DRC, MONUSCO Bintou Keita on Tuesday briefed the members of the UNSC told in New York said that the fighting between the M23 armed group and national forces has compounded the dire humanitarian situation in the eastern DRC.

Bintou Keita urged Council members to do all they can to prevent the fighting in North Kivu province from spreading beyond the border.

It is crucial to underscore the risk of an expansion of the conflict on a regional scale if the diplomatic efforts that are underway that seek to appease tensions and find sustainable political solutions to the current conflict fail,” she was speaking from Kinshasa.

She noted that the situation in the eastern DRC is the most complex, prolonged and protracted crises in the world lasted some three decades.

The latest violence is occurred against a backdrop of the eventual drawdown of MONUSCO this year, and at a time when historic flooding is affecting some two million people.

She stressed that hostilities have escalated dramatically since the expiration of a ceasefire in December, leading to a “deeply worrisome situation” around the town of Sake and the provincial Goma.

The fighting has intensified in several areas and the M23 has expanded in south, sparked more displacement towards Goma and neighbouring South Kivu province.

Ms. Keita said conditions are desperate in the severely overcrowded displacement sites in and around Goma.

More than 400,000 displaced persons have now sought refuge in the city, including 65,000 in the past two weeks, triggering a dramatic increase in cases of cholera due to a lack of safe drinking water, adequate hygiene, and sanitation.”

Sake remains under the control of the Congolese army, known as the FARDC, with support from MONUSCO.

She said “restricted access to M23-controlled territories is isolating Goma from inland territories and disrupting food production, supply chains,”.  Prices of basic commodities are rising, increasing the risk of public unrest.

Ms. Keita said that the redeployment of Congolese troops to the front with M23 has exacerbated the security vacuum in other territories in North Kivu and drawn in new combatants from South Kivu.

Groups including the Allied Defense Forces are increasingly committing human rights violations and abuses such as summary executions, abductions, property appropriation, extortion and conflict-related sexual violence.

Ms. Keita voiced deep concern over serious violations committed in areas under M23 control, where human rights defenders, journalists and other civil society representatives are being targeted.

Some 150 people have been killed since November, 77 in January.

MONUSCO to confront mis and disinformation surrounding its role in the ongoing clashes mainly through online campaigns carried out by accounts mostly located outside of the DRC.

“This has resulted in hostile acts against UN peacekeepers and restrictions of movement by local armed groups and government soldiers,” Ms. Keita said.

The violent protests against the UN and the diplomatic community erupted in Kinshasa on 10 February, “fueled by a perception of the international community’s inaction and inefficiency over the situation in the eastern DRC.”

UN entities and MONUSCO were targeted in 11 incidents and 32 staff members had to either be extracted or rescued by peacekeepers. UN vehicles were burnt and eight were severely damaged by stoning.

Ms. Keita commended ongoing diplomatic efforts by Angola to stop the fighting, and reaffirmed MONUSCO’s commitment to support regional peace processes.

“I also appeal strongly to the Security Council to use its influence to support regional peace initiatives that are underway to ensure that all parties respect international law, their commitments, and work constructively to put an end to the current crisis,” she said.

She expressed her deep concern over the security situation in other areas of North Kivu, Ituri and South Kivu provinces.

Ms. Keita said there has been a significant escalation of violence in Djugu territory in Ituri, where MONUSCO continues to ensure the protection of more than 100,000 people displaced last week due to deadly fighting between the Zaïre and CODECO factions.

The ADF continues to kill and kidnap civilians in both Ituri and North Kivu.

The group has started to attack military targets after a year of avoiding direct clashes with the security forces, and at time when a joint operation by the Ugandan and Congolese armies has been suspended.

Clashes have broken out between Twirwaneho militia and Mai-Mai groups in South Kivu, where MONUSCO is preparing to withdraw within the coming months.

Ms. Keita expressed gratitude to countries that have provided uniformed personnel to the mission, whose service is far from over in her closing remarks to the Council.

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