GOMA, Congo (AP) — With Congo's army diverted to fighting a new rebel group in eastern Congo, new militia groups have arisen and older ones are reasserting themselves, killing hundreds of defenseless civilians, the British charity Oxfam said yesterday.
Underscoring the severity of the situation, UN humanitarian chief Baroness Valerie Amos arrived in Goma yesterday and is to visit some of the 280,000 people who have fled their homes since mutinying soldiers launched the M23 rebellion in April. But security is so poor that Amos was forced to cancel planned trips to the mining town of Walikale and the seat of the rebellion in Rutshuru, 50 miles north of Goma.
"Vast swathes of the east have descended into chaos with no government or security presence," Oxfam country director Elodie Martel said in a statement.
As the 150,000-strong Congolese army and 20,000 UN peacekeepers have redeployed against M23 rebels in North Kivu province, fighting has spread to villages and towns, with the combatants often aiming to gain control of mines.
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton yesterday called the violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo "a serious threat to regional security and stability.
"We support the efforts of the DRC and we urge all the states in the region, including Rwanda, to work together to cut off support for the rebels in the M23, to disarm them and to bring their leaders to justice," Clinton said at a press conference in Pretoria, South Africa.
Responding to the escalating crisis in the mineral-rich area, regional leaders met in Uganda yesterday where they may seek a change in the mandate of the UN peacekeeping mission. The option is one of three under consideration as presidents forming the 11-nation International Conference on the Great Lakes Region pursue a solution to the crisis.
The other options include incorporating a neutral force drawn from around Africa into the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo, a position that appears to be favoured by the Congolese, or establishing a force pooled from regional armies, a more desirable situation for Uganda and Rwanda, according to officials monitoring deliberations.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, in a statement read by an envoy at the summit in Kampala, said he was "deeply concerned at the continuing reports of external support to the M23," and called for an end to such support. "Military deterrence alone will not resolve the current crisis," the statement said. "I strongly encourage continued and strengthened high-level dialogue at the bilateral and regional level, aimed at ending the conflict."
A Congolese military intelligence official said the Congolese government is pushing for the option that merges UN peacekeepers with an international force made up of troops from Angola, Tanzania and South Africa. The official was not authorised to be quoted by name.
James Mugume, the permanent secretary at Uganda's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the summit in Kampala is being held because the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo — MONUSCO — has "failed to do the job" of keeping the peace in eastern Congo.