Rebel groups hit with U.N. sanctions over eastern Congo

UNITED NATIONS Mon Dec 31, 2012 7:09pm EST

M23 rebel fighters sit on a truck as they withdraw near the town of Sake, 42 km (26 miles) west of Goma in eastern Congo November 30, 2012. REUTERS/James Akena

M23 rebel fighters sit on a truck as they withdraw near the town of Sake, 42 km (26 miles) west of Goma in eastern Congo November 30, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/James Akena

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - A U.N. Security Council sanctions committee on Monday blacklisted two rebel groups that have been responsible for war crimes in conflict-ravaged eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, the United Nations said in a statement.

The United States and Britain praised the move, with Washington suggesting further sanctions may be imposed against anyone who continues to cause trouble in eastern Congo.

One of the groups added to the blacklist is the so-called M23, a Congolese rebel faction led by Bosco Ntaganda, a warlord indicted by the International Criminal Court.

M23 initially said they took up arms over what they called Kinshasa's failure to keep a 2009 peace deal that saw them integrated into the army. They later broadened the scope of their movement, making its goal the "liberation" of all of Congo and the ouster of President Joseph Kabila.

The U.N. statement said M23, which is widely believed to be receiving support from neighboring Rwanda, has been complicit in serious crimes such as "killing and maiming, sexual violence, abduction, and forced displacement."

No Rwandans have been sanctioned in connection with M23, which diplomats have said on condition of anonymity was because the United States, in particular, opposes any such moves as counterproductive.

The other rebel organization hit with sanctions on Monday is the FDLR, or Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda. The FDLR is a Rwandan Hutu group that opposes President Paul Kagame's Tutsi-led government in Kigali and includes Hutu militiamen suspected of participating in Rwanda's 1994 genocide.

FDLR has been guilty of "targeting of women and children in armed conflict in the DRC, including killing and maiming, sexual violence, and forced displacement," the U.N. statement said.

RWANDA JOINS U.N. SECURITY COUNCIL

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice welcomed the Congo sanctions committee's decision.

"We urge the rank and file of both the M23 and the FDLR to defect and demobilize in order to disassociate themselves from the sanctioned groups," Rice said in a statement.

She said Washington and its partners "will continue to use every tool at our disposal to maintain the pressure on those responsible for the violence in the eastern DRC ... including additional action by the Security Council."

Britain's Minister for Africa Mark Simmonds also issued a statement welcoming the move.

The committee's announcement came hours before Rwanda joins the 15-nation Security Council. Rwanda has vowed to help improve the situation in eastern Congo during its upcoming stint on the council, but says it will not tolerate continued attempts to blame it for the M23 insurgency.

Some council envoys told Reuters on condition of anonymity that it may be more difficult to reach a consensus on issues related to Congo with Rwanda on the council.

The Security Council's "Group of Experts" has accused Rwanda and Uganda of backing M23. Kigali and Kampala deny the group's allegations but council diplomats say their denials are not credible.

The council has previously sanctioned individual members of M23 and FDLR, but not the groups themselves.

In addition to the two rebel groups, the sanctions committee blacklisted two additional M23 leaders on Monday: Eric Badege and Jean-Marie Runiga Lugerero. The two men will face international travel bans and asset freezes.

The council's Group of Experts previously recommended that the sanctions committee blacklist Rwandan officials it says have been overseeing M23, including Rwandan Defense Minister James Kabarebe, who the experts say is at the top of the M23 chain of command. But the council has not acted on their recommendation.

(Editing by Eric Walsh)

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