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AU deliberates on DRC

Members of the Peace and Security Council of the African Union on Thursday discussed the current crisis in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), with a call to the rebels to lay down their arms and pursue their “concerns through political channels.”

Members of the Peace and Security Council of the African Union on Thursday discussed the current crisis in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), with a call to the rebels to lay down their arms and pursue their “concerns through political channels.”

Meeting at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, the members were briefed about the situation by the Commission chairperson, as well as the representatives of DRC, Rwanda, United Nations and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) – a regional community which DRC belongs to, according to a statement.

“Council (PSC) stressed the need for all the elements of the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) to scrupulously comply with the commitment made by the CNDP, in the Goma Agreement of 23 March 2009, to transform itself into a political party and to pursue its concerns through political channels, in strict compliance with institutional order and the laws of the Republic,” the statement reads in part.

It adds: “Council demanded the immediate dissolution of the military wing of M23 (and that) the dissident officers and soldiers lay down their arms without delay and reintegrate the units of the armed forces of the DRC in the North and South Kivu”.

It welcomed this week’s working visit to Kinshasa by Rwanda’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Louise Mushikiwabo, and “the results achieved on that occasion”.

The Commission also called on regional countries to “make use of the mechanisms provided by the Pact on Security, Stability and Development in the Great Lakes region to extend full support to the DRC in its efforts to restore security in North Kivu.”

On June 18-19, Minister Mushikiwabo led a high-level delegation to a bilateral meeting in Kinshasa during which both countries agreed to further their collaboration in finding peaceful settlement of the renewed crisis, even as speculation mounted that Kigali was backing the M23 rebels.

“The two delegations exchanged information on security problems in the region and considered the concerns of each party in connection with the situation in eastern DRC,” a joint statement said.

“The two sides reaffirmed the commitment to continue working together for peace, stability and development in the sub region”.

Both sides agreed that their respective ministers of defence, accompanied by the military chiefs from both sides, would hold a “consultative and evaluation meeting” on June 28 in the Congolese eastern town of Goma.

In Addis Ababa, the AU Peace and Security Commission, resolved to convene, in due course, a meeting on the situation in eastern DRC, to review the developments on the ground, including violence directed against women, and to take the required decisions, according to the statement.

Members also “expressed deep concern at the humanitarian impact of the current fighting, including on vulnerable groups, in particular women and children.”

“Council urged the Congolese population and political actors to demonstrate utmost responsibility and to join their efforts towards the early restoration of peace, security and stability in the towns of North Kivu affected by the current fighting”.

Briefing the Council, Rwanda’s Permanent Representative to the AU, Prof Joseph Nsengimana, reaffirmed the country’s position that it has no interest in taking part in activities that destabilise its neighbour.

“I informed members that Rwanda has nothing to gain from the crisis in eastern Congo, recalling the various efforts Kigali has made since 2009 to help Kinshasa realise lasting peace, through bilateral arrangements, the Economic Community of the Great Lakes Countries (CEPGL), among other channels.”

Rwanda brokered the March 23, 2009 deal between Kinshasa and CNDP rebels, under which the latter were to be integrated into the national army and form a political party. The deal had ended years of unrest in eastern DRC, until early this year when some elements of the former CNDP and PARECO rebels deserted the army and launched the M23 rebellion. The mutineers blamed the government of mistreatment and general disregard of the accords.

Over the past two months, Rwanda has organised a series of bilateral meetings with DRC officials, including at least four high-level political, defence military talks in Kigali and in the border town of Rubavu.

Nonetheless, Kinshasa has accused Rwandan officials of backing the rebels, while the former has also been linked with the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a DRC-based Rwandan militia largely blamed for the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, which claimed more than a million lives.

Former FDLR fighters, who have voluntarily returned to Rwanda over the last few months, have claimed that the terrorist group is now fighting alongside the Congolese army against M23, adding that it also maintains “a friendly relationship” with the UN Stabilising Mission in the Congo (MONUSCO), a 20,000-troop force, which has repeatedly come under spotlight over a string of scandals.

The mission has often found itself on the defensive after damning reports implicated its members in trading arms and ammunitions for gold, ivory and drugs from FDLR fighters, as well as allegations of rape.

The latest skirmishes have driven thousands of civilians out of their homes, with more than 13,000 crossing to Rwanda. The situation has fast evolved into a serious security threat to civilian populations, with allegations of direct attacks. And a group of 11 Rwandans who were deported by DRC authorities on Wednesday alleged they had been beaten and tortured by members of the Congolese army.

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