The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) yesterday welcomed UN sanctions imposed on M23 rebels and their alleged Rwandan allies, saying they could dissuade them from further “military adventures.”
“It’s a condemnation we expected ... and it arrives at the right time because these groups threaten to destabilize Africa for decades, especially in the Great Lakes region,” DR Congo government spokesman Lambert Mende said.
“I think it’s a very good decision,” he added, referring to the UN Security Council’s move on Monday to slap an arms embargo on the two groups.
The March 23 Movement (M23) and the Hutu Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) — their alleged Rwandan allies — are mainly based in North Kivu province in eastern DR Congo, where they are accused of serious abuses.
Some FDLR members are suspected of having taken part in the 1994 genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda.
“Whatever anyone says in Kigali [Rwanda’s capital], we think that such measures will not be without consequences, because, like our country, all these neighboring countries depend a lot on international aid,” Mende said.
“If pressure comes from multilateral actors like the Security Council, that can only push them in the right direction because it will increase the price of these military adventures they launch against us, compared with the advantages they get,” he said.
The Security Council also imposed a travel ban and asset freeze on two key M23 figures: the group’s civilian leader, Jean-Marie Runiga Lugerero, and Lieutenant Colonel Eric Badege, who is suspected of being responsible for the deaths of women and children.
“I believe these sanctions are unjust,” Runiga said when he was reached by telephone in Bunagana, a town on the border with Uganda that is under M23 control.
“It’s manipulation pure and simple from the government in Kinshasa which causes a body like the United Nations to make a mistake,” he said.
The sanctions come after the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights accused the M23 of arbitrary executions, forced disappearances, degrading treatment and the rape of civilians in and around Goma after briefly taking over the city in November.
“These allegations have never been verified,” said Runiga, who says he asked in vain for an investigation from the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, which is mediating in the crisis.
The Security Council’s decision came just just hours before Rwanda was set to join the council as a non-permanent member yesterday.
UN experts accuse Rwanda and Uganda of backing the M23, an accusation both countries deny.
“We believe these designations will directly help advance the goal of a sustainable peace in eastern DRC [DR Congo],” US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said in a statement on Monday.
“We urge the rank and file of both the M23 and the FDLR to defect and demobilize in order to disassociate themselves from the sanctioned groups,” she said.
The council has already issued targeted sanctions against three M23 military leaders — Sultani Makenga, Baudoin Ngaruye and Innocent Kaina — but had yet to sanction the entire group.
The M23 was formed in April last year by former fighters in the National Congress for the Defense of the People, an ethnic Tutsi rebel group that was integrated into the army under a 2009 peace deal whose terms the mutineers claim were never fully implemented. The FDLR’s members are ethnic Hutus who were soldiers in the Rwandan army before being forced out of the country in the wake of the 1994 genocide, which killed 800,000.