Skip to main content

Rebels in eastern Congo face U.N. deadline to hand in weapons

By Jethro Mullen, CNN
August 2, 2013 -- Updated 0050 GMT (0850 HKT)
People walk on a road leading to the village of Kimbumba, in a M23 rebel-held territory, on July 25.
People walk on a road leading to the village of Kimbumba, in a M23 rebel-held territory, on July 25.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Rebels around the city of Goma have until Thursday afternoon to hand in their arms
  • Those who don't will be considered an "imminent threat," U.N. peacekeepers say
  • It's the first time the U.N. has said it will use troops to uphold a security zone in the area
  • The region is beset by a long-running humanitarian crisis affecting millions of people

(CNN) -- Rebels in an unstable part of the Democratic Republic of Congo have until Thursday afternoon to hand in their weapons to U.N. peacekeepers or risk being disarmed by force.

The ultimatum comes amid the latest flare up of unrest in central Africa's volatile Great Lakes region.

The 19,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping mission in the country, MONUSCO, issued the deadline on Tuesday. It's the first time it has said it will use its troops there to implement a security area around the city of Goma, by the border with Rwanda.

Sitting on the shore of Lake Kivu, the city has been at the center of clashes in the region over the past year between the M23 rebel group and Congolese government troops that have displaced more than 100,000 people, according to the U.N.

The rebels occupied Goma for more than a week in November before withdrawing amid pressure from regional leaders and the African Union.

Renewed attacks

But since mid-May, M23 forces have carried out repeated attacks on government troop positions "in an apparent attempt to advance on Goma and Sake," another nearby city, the U.N. mission says.

The rebels have used "indiscriminate and indirect fire, including by heavy weapons, resulting in civilian casualties" and attacks on U.N. installations, the peacekeepers say. The latest fighting has also reportedly drawn in a group of Uganda-based rebels.

If rebel troops in an area of North Kivu province that includes Goma and Sake ignore Thursday's deadline to give up their weapons at a U.N. base, "they will be considered an imminent threat of physical violence to civilians and MONUSCO will take all necessary measures to disarm them," the peacekeepers' statement says.

Those rebels who agree to hand in their arms will enter a process of demobilization and reintegration, the U.N. says.

A breakaway group

The M23 group was named for a peace deal of March 23, 2009, which it accuses the government of violating. The soldiers, mostly from the Tutsi ethnic group, became part of the national army through that accord.

However, they broke away from the Congolese army last year, complaining they weren't being promoted as promised, and because of a lack of pay and poor conditions.

The latest unrest continues a cycle of misery in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, a mineral-rich region at the epicenter of a political and ethnic conflict involving its neighbors to the east, Uganda and Rwanda.

Region in crisis

The humanitarian crisis in the region involves 2.6 million internally displaced people, the U.N. says, and 6.4 million people in need of food and emergency aid.

The area has been embroiled in violence since 1994, when ethnic Hutu forces crossed the border from Rwanda fearing reprisals after the genocide in that country.

At least 800,000 people in Rwanda were killed in the 1994 genocide, one of the worst mass slaughters in the post-World War II era.

The victims were mostly from the Tutsi ethnic minority, who were targeted by Hutus over a rivalry that dates to colonial days. Some moderates from the Hutu majority who supported Tutsis also were killed.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
Tethered to an IV drip, 71-year-old Shin Young Ja lies under a thin fleece blanket, nursing a broken back and wracked with survivor's guilt.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1123 GMT (1923 HKT)
Family members of the missing passengers are pinning slim hopes on floundering air pockets.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1614 GMT (0014 HKT)
An Iranian mother slaps and then forgives her 17-year old son's murderer in dramatic scenes at the gallows.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1135 GMT (1935 HKT)
An "extraordinary" video shows what looks like the largest and most dangerous gathering of al Qaeda in years.
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1230 GMT (2030 HKT)
Explore each side's case, reconstructed from Pistorius' court affidavit and the prosecution's case during last year's bail hearing.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1237 GMT (2037 HKT)
Mentions of the 1989 Tiananmen Square student protests or political reform are still censored in China.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 0934 GMT (1734 HKT)
The Hadza are one of the last communities of hunter-gatherers in the world -- but losing their land.
April 19, 2014 -- Updated 0122 GMT (0922 HKT)
In choosing to change a traditional practice, Francis is being as radical as Jesus was in his own time.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1113 GMT (1913 HKT)
Too weak. Can't handle pressure. Unattractive to sponsors. Susie Wolff has heard it all.
April 20, 2014 -- Updated 0249 GMT (1049 HKT)
Browse through images you don't always see on news reports from CNN teams around the world.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1230 GMT (2030 HKT)
It's like finding a needle in a universe-wide haystack. Researchers have located a planet roughly the size of Earth that could be habitable.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 0940 GMT (1740 HKT)
Dubai, long champion of all things biggest, longest and most expensive, will soon have some competition from a neighboring country.
ADVERTISEMENT