Congo Warns Return of M23 Rebels in East Could Block Vote

  • New conflict could drain financial resources, minister says
  • Insurgents once controlled large parts of mineral-rich region

A recent rise in rebel activity in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo threatens to undermine a political agreement for a democratic transfer of power this year, the country’s foreign minister said.

The Congolese government wrote to the United Nations Security Council last week requesting its support after the return of members of the former M23 rebellion to eastern Congo, Leonard She Okitundu said Friday by phone from the capital, Kinshasa.

A new conflict with M23 would “drain our financial resources” and jeopardize the government’s ability to organize elections this year, as required by the December political agreement, Okitundu said. “This is why we have asked the United Nations Security Council to help us enforce the Addis Ababa agreement” that helped bring an end to the first M23 rebellion in 2013, Okitundu said.

The government signed an accord with opposition parties in late 2016 stipulating that President Joseph Kabila, who’s ruled Africa’s largest copper-producer since 2001, will step down after delayed elections are held later this year.

Before its defeat in a joint offensive by UN and Congolese forces, M23 was the strongest rebellion in eastern Congo, an area where as many as 70 armed groups continue to operate more than a decade after the end of the country’s civil war. During a two-year insurgency, M23 controlled large parts of the mineral-rich region and briefly captured its biggest city, Goma.

Alleged Crossings

Since the start of the year, former M23 rebels have crossed back into Congo from demobilized camps in neighboring Rwanda and Uganda “with the intention of restarting hostilities,” Congo’s government said in a Jan. 27 letter to the Security Council signed by the country’s UN ambassador, Ignace Gata Mavita, a copy of which was seen by Bloomberg and confirmed by the foreign minister.

The UN, which has more than 19,000 peacekeepers in the country, hasn’t confirmed the presence of demobilized M23 rebels in Congo.

“This situation risks turning the attention of the government, which will be obliged to dedicate financial resources to the war,” Mavita said in the letter. “This situation will imperil the happy completion of the political agreement on elections and disturb the electoral process.”

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