TANZANIA has joined a number of countries to call on the Security Council of the United Nations to change the mandate of the peacekeeping mission in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The idea is to enable the peacekeepers to confront M23 rebels who have recently captured the eastern city of Goma in the vast and resource-rich country.
This comes as leaders of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) and the political and security organ of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), known as the Troika, assemble for a meeting.
The leaders are expected to start a two-day meeting in Kampala, Uganda, today, to discuss the crisis. The ICGLR is chaired by President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda while President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania chairs the SADC's troika.
The UN Security Council had in September, this year rejected a joint proposal by the SADC and the ICGLR for deployment of a neutral international peacekeeping force in the DRC. Foreign Affairs and International Relations Minister Bernard Membe said in Dar es Salaam that Tanzania has been saddened by the seizure of Goma by the rebel forces.
"We are equally concerned by that fact that the 17,000-strong UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC, Monusco, is not doing anything but standing aside and watching people suffer. The Security Council should implement the UN Chapter 7 which would give the mission a mandate to intervene and confront the rebels.
"The mission is currently operating under Chapter 6 which only gives it power to observe and monitor the situation, it can only attack the rebels when it is provoked," Minister Membe explained during a news conference in Dar es Salaam yesterday.
He expressed concerns that the crisis in the eastern DRC could produce refugees who would flee to Tanzania, given the fact that the rebel outfit has also threatened to attack other towns in DRC. The minister said Tanzania is ready to offer a one battalion (about 800 troops) to the SADC-ICGLR peacekeeping mission in DRC.
"If the Monusco has failed then we in the SADC and ICGLR can do it. A mission of 4,000 soldiers is enough to wipe out the rebels," the minister said. He urged the rebels to lay down their weapons and leave Goma. Fighters from the M23 rebel group captured Goma, the main city in resource-rich eastern DRC, early this week.
Reports indicate that the rebels met little resistance from the Congolese army or UN peacekeepers. The President of DRC, Mr Joseph Kabila and his Rwandan counterpart, Mr Paul Kagame, flew to Uganda on Monday this week for talks amid claims that Rwanda was backing the rebels.
France and Belgium are among countries that have also challenged the UN Security Council to enable the peacekeepers to intervene in the conflict. Reports from the war-torn country indicate that the rebels abduct women and children from Goma.
Meanwhile, aid agencies say that tens of thousands of people have fled their homes in the last five days as conflict escalates. The recent rebellion and capture of Goma is the first since the initial war that ravaged the country ended in 2003.
There is fear that a wider conflict could erupt. Some five million people are reported to have died in the DRC war, which also dragged in the neighbouring countries of Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola. Named after the 23 March 2009 peace accord which they accuse the DRC of violating, the M23 is led by Colonel Sultani Makenga while Commander Bosco Ntaganda, indicted by the International Criminal Court in 2006, heads its military operations.
In April, this year, former rebels who had been integrated in the main Congolese army formed the M23, also known as the Congolese Revolutionary Army, accusing Kinshasa of not adhering to the deal it entered with them on March 23, 2009.