UN reports "alarming" movements of armed forces in the east

The UN Mission (MONUC) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) on Saturday reported having received "alarming" information regarding troop movements on the part of the Kinshasa government, the Kigali government, the Kampala government, and various armed factions in eastern DRC, and warned of "imminent" attacks.

"It would be shameful for armies that have already withdrawn from the DRC to return to fight each other, as was the case in Kisangani in 2000," said MONUC spokesman Hamadoun Toure. It would be equally shameful if Congolese armed factions resorted to fighting at a time when efforts are being made to bring the peace process to its fruition."

According to MONUC, the Rwandan army is active in the Ituri District of Orientale Province of northeastern DRC, while the Uganda People's Defence Force (UPDF) has battalions supporting various Congolese rebel factions fighting in Ituri. MONUC also reported the presence of uniformed Rwandan soldiers in the Kivu provinces in the east.

In particular, MONUC cited the following:

the movement of two UPDF brigades towards Mahagi, north of Bunia, near the border with Uganda;

the presence of four Forces armees congolaises (FAC - the Kinshasa government's military) battalions in the territory of Beni, which is under the control of the Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie-Kisangani/Mouvement de liberation (RCD-K/ML); and

troop movements and threat of imminent attack by Rwandan-backed RCD-Goma forces on Kanyabayonga, in Lubero, North Kivu Province, an area under RCD-K/ML control.

The Kinshasa government has admitted the presence of its troops in rebel territory, stating that they are there for the purpose of future integration of various armed forces into a national army, as agreed in the power-sharing accord reached in the South African administrative capital, Pretoria, on 17 December 2002. The government said it had told MONUC that it had 250 soldiers in Beni.

"Our officers are in Beni in the context of a reunification of armies. The people of Beni have been assured that the presence of our forces is related to the imminent visit of President Joseph Kabila," said Vital Kamerhe, the commissioner-general of the DRC government in charge of the peace process in the Great Lakes region.

In a statement issued on Saturday by its president, Roger Lumbala, the RCD-National disputed Kamerhe's justification, and called on the international community to put pressure on Kinshasa to behave responsibly given the "gravity of this violation".

For its part, the Rwandan government has "categorically denied" the allegations, "as it withdrew its troops from DRC in October last year", said a report broadcast on Sunday on government-owned Radio Rwanda.

Meanwhile, AFP reported that Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni met on Saturday in Kampala the Special Representative of UN Secretary-General to the DRC, Amos Namanga Ngongi, on the DRC peace process. It noted that the two had focused on "the steps being taken to pacify the eastern part of the country", citing a Ugandan State House statement issued on Sunday, and stressed that all stakeholders in the DRC conflict should hold dialogues to bring about peace in their areas.

A statement from MONUC on Saturday said Ngongi was "pursuing contacts with all parties concerned with a view to getting an explanation" of the reported troop movements. It said Ngongi was appealing to all parties involved to refrain from any attack, which, if it happened, would only aggravate the suffering of the Congolese people and be a serious affront to the international community's efforts aimed at bringing the peace process to a successful conclusion. Ngongi also reminded the parties concerned that they would be held fully responsible in the event of a renewed outbreak of fighting.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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