DR Congo conflict: UN 'to protect Goma from rebels'

United Nations peacekeepers in the eastern city of Goma in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on 10 July 2012 There are an estimated 19,000 UN peacekeepers deployed in DR Congo

UN peacekeepers are being redeployed to Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo to protect the city from mutineers, the country's UN envoy says.

Roger Meece said he was determined to protect population centres in the east from advancing rebels of the M23 group.

Meanwhile, a source has told the BBC the army has retaken the two towns recently captured by the fighters.

The M23 mutineers say they have no intention of taking Goma, which borders Rwanda, and want to negotiate.

At the scene

The transit camp close to the border with DR Congo is full to capacity - hundreds of white UNHCR tents are crammed in a space the size of about four football fields. The Ugandan government says there are more than 16,000 people there at the moment - 8,000 arriving after fighting intensified in eastern DR Congo last week. More than 600 Congolese soldiers have also crossed the border after losing a battle with the rebels.

I met Assinate and her five children, who had fled under a hail of gunfire. She is trying to keep her tent clean and tidy, but her mind is taken up with thoughts of the child and husband she left behind in the chaos.

The rebels say they do not want to fight and are calling for negotiations with the government in Kinshasa. But there is a fear that the city of Goma could come under attack.

But many refugees like Assinate do not give much thought to the M23 rebels and their intentions. All they want is to have their lives back.

The Congolese government and the UN say Rwanda is backing the rebels, a claim Kigali vehemently denies.

The BBC has been told that Congolese soldiers have been seen entering the strategic town of Rutshuru, 70km (43 miles) north of Goma, which was captured by rebels over the weekend.

Kiwanja, 20km further north, has reportedly been retaken by the army after M23 fighters left the town.

The rebels - who took up arms in April - named themselves "M23" after a failed peace agreement signed on 23 March three years ago.

On Tuesday, a rebel commander told the BBC they intended to hide out in the mountains until they were able to renegotiate a new peace deal with the government and did not intend to take further ground.

They are supporters of renegade General Bosco Ntaganda, who is wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Gen Ntaganda is an ethnic Tutsi - like the majority of Rwanda's leadership - and a recent UN report accused Rwanda of backing the rebels.

At a briefing to reporters in DR Congo's capital, Kinshasa, Mr Meece said it had been noted that the mutineers were wearing a new uniform, which indicated that they had the backing of a "foreign country".

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He added that some M23 fighters who had defected had said that some of the rebels spoke English, indicating they were not from DR Congo.

"We are certainly absolutely determined to do everything possible to protect population centres against threats by the M23," Mr Meece said.

"We have since the beginning and we're continuing to make adjustments in deployment including bringing personnel that are available from elsewhere... and that certainly includes some from Kinshasa."

The M23 rebels defected from the army amid pressure on the government to arrest Gen Ntaganda.

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As with most mutinies, the turmoil now spreading across the lush green hills of eastern DR Congo is, despite appearances, a calculated and calibrated affair”

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An estimated 200,000 people have fled their homes since April, with about 20,000 crossing the border into Uganda and Rwanda.

The BBC's Catherine Byaruhanga on the Ugandan section of the border town of Bunagana says there has been an influx of refugees fleeing the fighting in the last week.

M23 rebels captured the Congolese side of the town last Friday.

Many residents of the Congolese section choose to spend the nights sleeping in verandas or shop fronts on the Ugandan side, trekking over every evening, she says.

Eastern DR Congo has been plagued by years of fighting.

In 1994, more than a million Rwandan ethnic Hutus crossed the border following the genocide in which some 800,000 people - mostly Tutsis - died.

Rwanda has twice invaded its much larger neighbour, saying it was trying to take action against Hutu rebels based in DR Congo. Uganda also sent troops into DR Congo during the 1997-2003 conflict.

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