The United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) today warned the 23 March Movement (M23) armed group that anyone attacking UN helicopters "will be prosecuted" as a war criminal.
The warning from the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in DRC (MONUSCO) comes after two of the mission's utility helicopters faced hostile fire on 26 December from "two localities under M23 control," according to a MONUSCO press release.
MONUSCO said the helicopters were unarmed and are "routinely used for medical evacuation for both UN personnel and civilians."
They were fired upon while undertaking a "routine flying certification" 20 kilometres north of Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu province in eastern DRC that the M23 occupied last month for 11 days.
MONUSCO added that this was the second time that UN helicopters had been "deliberately targeted by M23 elements" during December.
The M23 is made up of former DRC army troops who mutinied in April, and named after a 23 March 2009 peace agreement that they reportedly say has not been implemented. For its part, MONUSCO is deployed in DRC to protect civilians, humanitarian personnel and human rights defenders, among other tasks set by the UN Security Council.
"MONUSCO reminds that peacekeepers are in the exclusive service of peace, and that any attack against them constitutes a war crime," the mission said. "Those responsible for such acts will be prosecuted and brought to justice."
The M23 has this month participated in peace talks with the DRC Government in the Ugandan capital of Kampala. Its troops withdrew from Goma at the end of November under the supervision of some of the 1,500 MONUSCO peacekeepers deployed in the city of one million. This was in accordance with requirements laid out in a communiqué issued by the regional intergovernmental group known as the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR).
MONUSCO said it has reported the recent attacks to ICGLR's Joint Verification Mechanism in Goma, which monitors the border between DRC and Rwanda.
It added that the 26 December attacks took place at approximately 8 p.m., with initial fire originating from Kibumba, a town about 25 kilometres north of Goma, and a second round of fire coming from Kanyamahoro, another locality in the region.