The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo), Rwanda and neighboring states on Thursday called for the creation of an international military force to eliminate armed rebels in the DR Congo’s turbulent east.
Their agreement, signed on the sidelines of an African Union summit in Addis Ababa, proposes an internationally-backed military response to an offensive by rebels in the DR Congo’s North Kivu Province, a political and ethnic tinderbox.
The document was signed by the foreign ministers of nearly a dozen states of the Great Lakes region, including the DR Congo and Rwanda, and it condemned recent advances by the Tutsi-led M23 rebel movement and a rebellion by predominantly Hutu fighters of the FDLR insurgent group in North and South Kivu.
It was not immediately clear in the text where the troops would come from to establish the “neutral international force” that would take on the Congolese rebel groups.
The UN has a large peacekeeping mission in the DR Congo, but it has often been hard-pressed to halt fighting. An Indian peacekeeper was killed last week during clashes.
Eastern DR Congo’s enduring conflict, which has killed, maimed and displaced several million civilians over nearly two decades, has its roots in Tutsi-Hutu ethnic and political enmities dating back to the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
The DR Congo government had accused neighbor Rwanda of fomenting and supporting the rebellion.
Rwanda strenuously denies supporting the M23, though UN investigators have produced evidence to back the allegations that senior Rwandan military officials provided backing for the rebels.
Both the Congolese and Rwandan foreign ministers welcomed the agreement as a step toward ending the latest fighting in North Kivu, which since April has displaced more than 100,000 civilians, according to UN officials.
“I think it is positive. The most important thing is putting it into effect,” Congolese Foreign Minister Raymond Tshibanda N’tungamulongo said.
Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said it was positive to see the region getting involved to halt the eastern Congo conflict.
“It is a good agreement, it is not a solution, it is part of a solution,” the Rwandan minister said.