The March 23 movement (M23) rebels say they are preparing to fight a new United Nations brigade, which will be authorized to pursue armed groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“We are waiting for the brigade. We are ready. Our men are on maximum alert,” Stanislas Baleke, an official of M23’s political branch, said on Tuesday.
The mandate of the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo, known as MONUSCO, was recently renewed by the Security Council. The new mandate allows the creation of a special unit, called the Force Intervention Brigade, to carry out targeted offensive operations against armed groups rather than merely protecting civilians. The forces of the special unit are expected to arrive in the country before July 1.
Meanwhile, Mary Robinson, the UN special envoy for the Great Lakes region, insisted that efforts must continue to resolve the crisis in the country.
“There’s no doubt these armed groups have to be dealt with, but I think it’s important that this does not become a focus on a military solution, (and) that we’re implementing the political steps that have been committed to,” Robinson said during a visit to Goma in the eastern Congo on Tuesday.
“The intervention brigade must play a role of deterrent rather than a military solution. The real focus is on the framework agreement for a political solution,” she added.
Several armed groups, including the M23 rebels, are active in the east of the DRC and fighting for control of the country’s vast mineral resources, such as gold, the main tin ore cassiterite, and coltan (columbite-tantalite), which is used to make many electronic devices, including cell phones.
The M23 rebels seized Goma on November 20, 2012 after UN peacekeepers gave up the battle for the frontier city of one million people. M23 fighters withdrew from the city on December 1 under a ceasefire accord.
The M23 rebels defected from the Congolese Army in April 2012 in protest over alleged mistreatment in the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC). They had previously been integrated into the Congolese army under a peace deal signed in 2009.
Since early May 2012, nearly 3 million people have fled their homes in the eastern Congo. About 2.5 million have resettled in Congo, but more than 460,000 have crossed into neighboring Rwanda and Uganda.
Congo has faced numerous problems over the past few decades, such as grinding poverty, crumbling infrastructure, and a war in the east of the country that has dragged on since 1998 and left over 5.5 million people dead.