People protest growing insecurity in Congo’s east

GOMA, Congo (AP) — Demonstrators set fires and forced entry into the U.N. mission facilities in Congo’s eastern city of Goma, demanding that the peacekeeping forces leave the country amid rising insecurity in the region.

Police shot tear gas, injuring some demonstrators, while detaining others, according to protesters.

The Congolese government condemned the attack, pledging justice.

“The incidents in Goma are not only unacceptable but totally counterproductive,” the U.N. mission in Congo said in a statement. “MONUSCO (the U.N. mission) is mandated by the Security Council to accompany the authorities in protecting civilians. It stands by the people and supports the national defense and security forces in their fight against armed groups.” It called for calm and restraint.

Congo’s security situation has deteriorated over the past year, with increased attacks from various rebel groups, including the M23 rebel group that had been largely inactive for a decade. M23 earlier this year took control of parts of eastern Congo and has been involved in heavy fighting with Congo’s military.

A Human Rights Watch report Monday says more than 29 civilians have been summarily killed since mid-June by the armed M23 group, a worrying escalation of violence by the rebel force amid concerns it may also be receiving support from neighboring Rwanda.

“Since the M23 took control of several towns and villages in North Kivu in June, they’ve committed the same kind of horrific abuses against civilians that we’ve documented in the past,” said Thomas Fessy, senior Congo researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The government’s failure to hold M23 commanders accountable for war crimes committed years ago is enabling them and their new recruits to commit abuses today.”

The fighting between Congolese troops and M23 rebels has forced nearly 200,000 people to flee their homes, the rights group said, as M23 has also demonstrated increased firepower and defense capabilities.

Congolese officials have asserted that M23 is backed by Rwanda, and have accused the much smaller neighbor of occupying Congolese territory. Rwanda has long denied supporting M23, which is made up mostly of ethnic Tutsi fighters from Congo who say their government hasn’t honored past commitments to reintegrate them into the national army.

Regional leaders under the East African Community bloc — which Congo recently joined — are working toward deploying a peacekeeping force in eastern Congo’s restive provinces.

Meanwhile, Angola’s government has been mediating talks between Congo and Rwanda.

Human Rights Watch called on donor countries to suspend military assistance to governments that support M23 or other abusive armed groups. It also called on the U.N., the African Union and the governments concerned to support a “clear strategy to address impunity for serious abuses with a vetting mechanism for the security and intelligence services, an internationalized justice mechanism, and a comprehensive reparations program, as well as an effective demobilization program.”

“Civilians in eastern Congo should not have to endure new atrocities by the M23,” Fessy said. “The UN should urgently step up its efforts with national and regional authorities to prevent history from repeating itself at the expense of North Kivu’s people.”


Kamale reported from Kinshasa, Congo.

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