U.N. Presses Kabila to Join Offensive against Rebels

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told President Joseph Kabila on Wednesday that it was time for decisive action against Hutu rebels in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

The phone call to the DR Congo president came as the 20,000-strong U.N. force gears up for an offensive against the rebels whose success hinges on an active role by the Congolese government troops.

Kabila told Ban that his "government was ready to take action" and that his troops would join the U.N. force to root out the rebels from the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a U.N. statement said.

U.N. troops have taken up positions as part of the planned offensive that was decided after the FDLR ignored a January 2 deadline to give themselves up.

"We're good to go," a senior U.N. official told reporters. Military operations against the FDLR are expected to be launched "very soon" and could take months, he said.

While U.N. attack helicopters are ready to swing into action, Congolese government troops and police are expected to move in quickly to secure territory seized from the fighters.

"There is no way we can hold that territory once it's liberated," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity. 

U.N. and Congolese forces on Monday seized several rebel bases in South Kivu in a separate offensive launched against a Burundi rebel group, the National Liberation Forces (FNL).

The base is located near a major stronghold of the FDLR, which is active in South and North Kivu as well as parts of Katanga province.

- Consequences for civilians -U.N. officials are pushing for the disarming of dozens of rebel and splinter groups after two decades of conflict in the eastern DR Congo, much of it fueled by the lucrative trade in minerals.

But the U.N.-backed operation will be more "measured" than the campaign that drove out Rwandan-backed M23 fighters in 2013, said the official.

"When this starts there will be consequences for civilians," he warned.

U.N. military planners are bracing for waves of displaced civilians and will give the rebels "every opportunity to surrender" along the way, he added.

More than 11,000 FDLR rebels have surrendered, with many resettling in Rwanda, but a hard-core group of up to 1,500 remains active in the jungle and have shown no sign that they will give up.

The group includes former Interahamwe militia members who carried out atrocities in the 1994 Rwandan genocide before crossing into eastern DR Congo.

Among the holdouts is FDLR leader Sylvestre Mudacumura, who is wanted for war crimes including rape and torture during a rampage in eastern DR Congo in 2009 and 2010.

The International Crisis Group warned last month that the "entire stabilization agenda for the eastern provinces was at risk" over the U.N.'s failure to drive out the armed groups.

Source: Agence France Presse

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