The Democratic Republic of the Congo military has warned that any aggressor would be met with force and added that it was untroubled by German and other mercenaries.
M23 rebels have issued a warning to the Congolese government that they would resume fighting to take control of the troubled east if the government does not start negotiations immediately.
Congolese troops backed by the UN Intervention Brigade including South African troops have taken up positions abandoned by M23 rebels in the hills overlooking the eastern town of Goma.
This happened after the rebels withdrew on Friday.
Meanwhile, Rwanda has denied accusations from the UN of helping the rebel group.
DRC military spokesperson Colonel Amuli Olivier said: “If Rwanda helps M23, Congo doesn’t care, because we know they have mercenaries from Germany, from Eritrea, from Uganda. The most important thing for Congo is to say whoever takes arms against Congo, will always face the full force of the army and the army’s objective is to secure Congolese borders and its civilians.”
The rebels have demanded the government to return to the negotiating table saying “if the Congolese government pushes on with the military option to the detriment of the Kampala talks, our armed forces reserve the right to re-take control (of Goma positions).”
Over the past week several peacekeepers have been injured in clashes among them, three South Africans.
M23’s political leader, Bertrand Bisimwa wrote a letter to South Africa earlier, asking them not to come and “kill their brothers”. He cautioned them that they are going to face similar treatment to the one they received when facing Seleka rebels in the Central African Republic (CAR) who killed 13 South African soldiers.
“If they (the South Africans) think they will go out into the hills and annihilate M23, they’re crazy,” Bisimwa said, adding: “If an army goes in, when it does not know the terrain or the politics is overconfident and is itself not combat equipped for these kind of operations, they’re going to be kicked. If South African special forces could not keep Seleka at bay – not nearly as coherent a target as M23 – how are they going to defeat M23, which are in their own back yard?”
South Africa is deploying more than 1000 troops in the DRC. Tons of weaponry, including helicopters, were flown in huge cargo planes from South Africa to Entebbe in Uganda, close to the Congolese border, where SA forces are expected to be based. The rebel group accuses Zuma of sending his troops to the DRC to protect his nephew Khulubuse’s oil interests.
South Africa may be badly underestimating the strength of the M23-rebels.
M23 rebels have grenade-launchers and a 37mm double barrelled aircraft defence cannon from the Congolese defence forces. A source inside the SA army admitted that there could be ‘loss of lives’ among the South Africans because the rebels know the terrain better.
The South African troops are part of a multilateral regional force, which includes the armies of Mozambique, Malawi and Tanzania, with the blessing of the UN Security Council which passed Resolution 2098 on March 28, 2013.
M23 claims the resolution transformed the UN peace keepers in a belligerent force, entrusted with offensive mission. The UN security council thus authorised an “intervention brigade” to allow “neutralisation of armed groups in the east of the DRC.” This decision was in sharp deviation of the UN’s historic peace mandate in the Congo, who in the past only had a mandate to ‘protect’ the area.
UN Security Council unanimously approved the creation of a brigade of more than 2,500 troops with a mandate to conduct “targeted offensive operations” against M23. The new UN force is to consist of three infantry battalions, an artillery company, a reconnaissance company and “special forces.”
It marked the first time that UN peacekeepers were given a mandate to conduct offensive operations, marking a dramatic change from the UN’s peace mandate in the past, which only allowed soldiers to shoot back when they were being shot at.
M23 says the UN is, in effect, coming to the “rescue of one of the most corrupt regimes in the world and will contribute to extending the reign of an army that is infamous for rampant rape and other atrocities that it wantonly and habitually inflicts on the Congolese population.”
The irony of Resolution 2098, is the UN Secretary General’s own words stating that corruption is the main cause of the failure of the DRC Government.
Sources say army officers take advantage of agricultural and mineral wealth, and set up taxes and roadblocks in the area. “The rationale for the presence of soldiers is ostensibly to protect people from rebellions. Unless they get rich on the backs of the same people, they have no interest in stopping the war.”
Some observers even argue that a part of the army is in the hands of Tutsis. More than nine generals out of thirty are said to be Tutsi Congolese. The M23, backed by Rwanda, want an independent state, Tutsiland.