The New Times (Kigali)

Congo-Kinshasa: Foreign Ministers Meet as Conflict Escalates

The United Nations says 200,000 people in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have fled their homes to escape the fighting between government ... ( Resource: Fighting Sends DR Congo Families Fleeing

As the tension continues to mount over insecurity in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, foreign affairs ministers from at least 11 African countries are scheduled to meet this week to forge a way forward.

The meeting, convened by the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), is scheduled to take place on Wednesday in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, according to a top official from the regional body.

With headquarters in Bujumbura, the ICGLR member states include; Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, Zambia.

The meeting will take place on the margins of the African Union Summit of Head of States.

"We have invited all of them (Foreign Affairs Ministers) and they are free to come with technical persons, including those in the defence sector," Silas Sinyigaya, the ICGLR programme officer in charge of good governance, told The New Times yesterday.

The discussions come two days after the capture, on Friday, of the border town of Bunagana, by the rebel group M23, leading to an influx of refugees and over 600 heavily armed soldiers of the Congolese army (FARDC) fleeing to Uganda.

M23 is a group composed of hundreds of mutineers who deserted the national army, the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC)

After crossing into Uganda, the Congolese troops were placed in the grounds of a military barracks after being disarmed. In a nearby clinic, medics treated more than two dozen soldiers, some of whom had suffered gunshot wounds.

"Ensuring peace and stability in our region is the primary reason why the ICGLR was formed," Sinyigaya added.

In a statement sent to The New Times yesterday, the ICGLR expressed concern over the ongoing humanitarian crisis in North- Kivu province that is characterized by the growing number of displaced persons and refugees.

"ICGLR warns all the perpetrators of ongoing serious and massive human rights violations in the Eastern DRC, including war crimes and crimes against humanity, such as the forced recruitment of children in Armed Groups, Sexual Gender Based Violence, especially rape, that their crimes in the region will not remain unpunished," the statement reads in part.

Quoting the Dar-es-Salaam Declaration on Peace, Security, Democracy and Development in the Great Lakes Region, ICGLR urged member states to uphold their commitment to make the Great Lakes Region a space of lasting peace and security, political and social stability, shared growth and development.

Since the fighting broke out at least two months ago, reports indicate that over 200,000 people from the eastern DRC have been displaced, and out of these, over 17,000 have crossed into Rwanda.

These found another 50,000 who have been in the country for over the past decade, having fled persecution from the same volatile region.

Peace talks

The M23 movement announced that it would not advance on other urban areas if talks with the Kinshasa government went ahead.

"Our aim is not to go to Goma. We want to remain here and call the government to negotiate," Col. Vianney Kazarama, M23's political commissar, told agencies from Bunagana.

However even when he said this, agencies reported that by noon Sunday, the rebels had marched into Rutshuru and the towns of Ntamugenga and Rubare, less than 10 kilometres away on the road to the provincial capital Goma.

The rebels said they did not face any opposition from Congolese government troops (FARDC).

Most of the mutineers were part of a former rebel group-the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) and other rebel groups that largely operated in the eastern DRC, who had been reintegrated into the national army, following a peace deal.

The rebels say they mutinied because of poor conditions in the army and demand full implementation of peace accords signed on March 23, 2009.

Meanwhile in retaliation, the defence minister of DRC ordered the army to seek out and arrest Bosco Ntaganda, former head of CNDP.

A statement, signed by defence minister Alexander Tambo, said Ntaganda and 13 of his deputies had been dismissed from the army and went on to say that "the defence and security services are ordered to urgently re-launch an operation to find and arrest Ntaganda and five other officers".

The Congolese troops, newly reinforced with commando units, recently launched an offensive against M23 in the hills south of Virunga, mutineers said.

The 7,800-square-kilometre (3,011-square-mile) national park, created in 1925, is the oldest in Africa and was classified a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.

Regional concerns

Through the ICGLR and other platforms, it has been said over the years that a destabilised DRC spells insecurity in the entire region.

For instance, rebel activities aimed at destabilising countries including Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi among others, have over the years found bases in the vast country.

Particularly for Rwanda, the DRC is home to the terror group, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), which is made up mainly of elements responsible for the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

Reports from defected senior members of the FDLR, which has since been branded a terror group, have pointed at incidences of alliance between the militia group and the Congolese national army and the UN Mission in DRC, MONUSCO.

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