Democratic Republic of Congo’s president, Joseph Kabila, called for a stronger mandate for United Nations peacekeepers to help combat a rebellion in the east that has forced almost 1 million people from their homes.
Rebels from the M23 movement deserted Congo’s army in April and held the border town of Goma for 11 days last month before agreeing to negotiations with the government. UN soldiers faced criticism for allowing the insurgents to enter the trading hub after the national army retreated.
“The current crisis has proven, one more time, the limits of the approach of its actions in our country to the deep frustration of the government and the Congolese population,” Kabila told a joint session of parliament today in Kinshasa, the capital. “We have requested a reorganization of its mandate to bring it in line with the reality on the ground.”
For more than a decade, armed groups have thrived in eastern Congo, often supporting themselves by exploiting the area’s natural resources, according to the country’s Mines Ministry and the UN. The region is rich in tin ore, gold, and coltan, an ore used in electronics. Companies including Soco International Plc and Total SA are exploring for oil in North Kivu province, where the M23 rebels are based.
The UN is considering proposals to add troops and strengthen its enforcement capability, mission head Roger Meece said yesterday. There are about 19,000 uniformed peacekeeping personnel in Congo, a country nearly the size of Western Europe.
M23 is trying “to create chaos and justify the balkanization of our country,” Kabila said. “No suffering, no privation, no adversity will stop our determination to defend our territorial integrity.”
Kabila described the rebellion as an act of external aggression by neighboring Rwanda, citing his own intelligence agencies and UN reports. Rwanda has denied backing the insurgents.
Congo accuses Rwanda of looting its resources, while Rwandan President Paul Kagame says poor governance by Congo’s leaders has led to insecurity in the region. Anti-government rebels from Rwanda have been based in eastern Congo since the mid-1990s.
In 2009, a peace deal between Congo and Rwandan-backed rebels improved relations between the countries. The M23 rebels say they mutinied because the Congolese government failed to implement the agreement.
Negotiations between the rebels and the government are continuing in Kampala, Uganda’s capital, Kabila said.