The Congolese March 23 rebel organization (M23) unilaterally declared a ceasefire after a week of fighting during which shelling has killed people in neighboring Rwanda, which is accused of supporting the rebels in the Congo. The Congolese army and the UN peacekeepers carried out their first large-scale offensive against the rebels, in an attempt to disarm them. Rwanda denies supporting the rebels and has threatened to enter the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Bertrand Bissimwa, The chairman of M23, told AP that the rebels proclaimed a unilateral ceasefire because they are requesting investigation into shelling that killed a U.N. peacekeeper, 10 Congolese soldiers and 14 civilians and also killed people and destroyed homes on the Rwandese side of border.
Rwanda’s minister of foreign affairs, Louise Mushikiwabo, accused the Congo of firing those shells and said that Rwanda sees it as an “act of provocation”. She said Kigali will no longer tolerate such attacks and even threatened that Rwanda’s army may officially enter Congo territory.
The DR Congo said that shelling was carried out by Rwanda from its own territory. “It’s a mise-en-scene organized by Kigali to kill Congolese and Rwandese people,” said Lambert Mende, a Congolese government spokesperson.
The UN accused M23 rebels of carrying out the shelling . According to AFP, Edmond Mulet, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations at the United Nations, confirmed this during closed consultations with the UN Security Council. The rebels say their unilateral ceasefire will allow the Congolese government to return to the negotiating table. “We want to give peace a chance,” he said. Bissimwa also announced that M23 started pulling its forces out of Kanyaruchinya. But the government seems unwilling to consider the proposition. The rebels’ ceasefire came just after major setbacks they recorded since last Wednesday when the UN mission in Congo (MONUSCO) launched its first serious offensive against them. The offensive was carried by the Special Intervention Unit set up earlier this year after M23 briefly captured Goma, capital of the Eastern mineral-rich province of North-Kivu. From Wednesday, UN helicopters were bombarding Congo rebels’ positions while peacekeepers moved on the ground toward areas controlled by M23. The attack was the first of this kind by peacekeepers for almost 15 years. MONUSCO is largest and most expensive UN mission in the world.
“Announcing a unilateral ceasefire isn’t enough, we want to see M23 demobilized, and to see them dissolve and cease all military action,” said Mende. The UN offensive started after three days of demonstrations by civilians demanding the end of the UN mission in the Congo, because of its inaction against the rebels, who have shelled several civilian areas. Three demonstrators died and dozen were injured during the demonstrations. Inhabitants accused the UN forces of firing on demonstrators. The UN mission has denied this.
The UN intervention brigade is made up of South African, Tanzanian and Malawian soldiers and was sent in four months ago in order to hunt down rebels and armed groups in the DR Congo. The UN mission is made up of about 20.000 peacekeepers and has been in the Congo since 2009. Its mandate has been modified several times, but has failed to bring an end to the 17-years-long war.
Source: AP and Radio Okapi.