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DR Congo: Fighting threatens stability of entire region, envoy warns

Briefing the Security Council in New York, UN Special Representative Bintou Keita urged ambassadors to do all they can to prevent the fighting in North Kivu province from spreading beyond the border. 

It is crucial to underscore the risk of an expansion of the conflict on a regional scale if the diplomatic efforts that are underway that seek to appease tensions and find sustainable political solutions to the current conflict fail,” she said, speaking from the capital, Kinshasa. 

‘Deeply worrisome’ 

The situation in the eastern DRC is among the most complex, prolonged and protracted crises in the world, lasting some three decades. The latest violence is occurring against a backdrop of the eventual drawdown of MONUSCO this year, and at a time when historic flooding is affecting some two million people.

Hostilities have escalated dramatically since the expiration of a ceasefire in December, leading to a “deeply worrisome situation” around the town of Sake and the provincial capital, Goma.

Fighting has intensified in several areas in recent weeks, and the M23 has expanded further south, sparking more displacement towards Goma and neighbouring South Kivu province.

Goma: Scenes of desperation 

Ms. Keita said conditions are desperate in the severely overcrowded displacement sites in and around Goma. 

More than 400,000 displaced persons have now sought refuge in the city, including 65,000 in the past two weeks, triggering a dramatic increase in cases of cholera due to a lack of safe drinking water, adequate hygiene, and sanitation.”

Sake currently remains under the control of the Congolese army, known as the FARDC, with support from MONUSCO.

However, “restricted access to M23-controlled territories is isolating Goma from inland territories and disrupting food production, supply chains,” she said.  Prices of basic commodities are rising, increasing the risk of public unrest.

Violations and abuses 

The redeployment of Congolese troops to the front with M23 has exacerbated the security vacuum in other territories in North Kivu and drawn in new combatants, notably from South Kivu, the Council heard. 

Groups including the Allied Defense Forces (ADF) are increasingly committing human rights violations and abuses such as summary executions, abductions, property appropriation, extortion and conflict-related sexual violence. 

Ms. Keita expressed deep concern over serious violations committed in areas under M23 control, where human rights defenders, journalists and other civil society representatives are being targeted.  At least 150 people have been killed since November, 77 in January alone. 

Misinformation campaigns 

Meanwhile, MONUSCO continues to confront mis and disinformation surrounding its role in the ongoing clashes, mainly through online campaigns carried out by accounts mostly located outside of the DRC.

“This has resulted in hostile acts against UN peacekeepers and restrictions of movement by local armed groups and government soldiers,” Ms. Keita said. 

Violent protests against the UN and the diplomatic community erupted in Kinshasa on 10 February, “fueled by a perception of the international community’s inaction and inefficiency over the situation in the eastern DRC.” 

UN entities and MONUSCO were targeted in 11 incidents and 32 staff members had to either be extracted or rescued by peacekeepers. Two UN vehicles were burnt and eight were severely damaged by stoning. 

Appeal to ambassadors 

Ms. Keita commended ongoing diplomatic efforts by Angola to stop the fighting, and reaffirmed MONUSCO’s commitment to support regional peace processes. 

“I also appeal strongly to the Security Council to use its influence to support regional peace initiatives that are underway to ensure that all parties respect international law, their commitments, and work constructively to put an end to the current crisis,” she said. 

Alarm rising across the east 

The UN envoy also voiced concern over the security situation in other areas of North Kivu, Ituri and South Kivu provinces. 

She said there has been a significant escalation of violence in Djugu territory in Ituri, where MONUSCO continues to ensure the protection of more than 100,000 people displaced last week due to deadly fighting between the Zaïre and CODECO factions. 

The ADF continues to kill and kidnap civilians in both Ituri and North Kivu. The group has also started to attack military targets after nearly a year of avoiding direct clashes with the security forces, and at time when a joint operation by the Ugandan and Congolese armies has been suspended. 

Clashes have also broken out between Twirwaneho militia and Mai-Mai groups in South Kivu, where MONUSCO is preparing to withdraw within the coming months. 

Ms. Keita concluded her remarks by expressing gratitude to countries that have provided uniformed personnel to the mission, whose service is far from over.  

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