UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni told U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon he had spoken to M23 rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo - a group his government is accused of supporting - and called for calm, a U.N. peacekeeping spokesman said on Monday.
Ban called Museveni on Sunday evening as the rebels advanced to Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu province. U.N. peacekeeping operations spokesman Kieran Dwyer said that non-essential U.N. staff would start leaving the town on Tuesday.
A confidential report by U.N. experts, seen by Reuters last month, said that Rwanda and Uganda - despite their strong denials - were supporting M23 rebels in their eight-month fight against Congolese government troops in the east of the country.
“President Museveni, in his capacity as Chairperson of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), indicated (to Ban) that he had spoken to the M23 rebels and called for calm,” Dwyer said in a statement.
“The violence in and around Goma is hampering efforts to provide humanitarian relief,” he said. “UN staff will be temporarily relocated from Goma. Troops will stay to protect civilians.”
Ban spoke to Congo’s foreign minister, Raymond Tshibanda, and Rwandan President Paul Kagame on Saturday. Foreign ministers from the Great Lakes regional body were due to meet on the conflict on Tuesday in Kampala, Dwyer said.
In a report to the U.N. Security Council, dated November 14 but released on Monday, Ban said he was disturbed by continued external support for M23 and called on “all those responsible to immediately and permanently end this destabilizing assistance.”
“The sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is inviolable and must be fully respected by all neighboring countries,” Ban said. “Constructive dialogue and engagement between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and its neighbors, especially Rwanda, is vital.”
The U.N. Security Council issued a unanimous statement on Saturday that condemned the M23 attacks, demanded an end to “all outside support and supply of equipment to the M23” called on M23 to halt “any further advances towards the city of Goma.”
But French U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud said on Monday that M23 had shown “total disrespect” for the council and that he would later on Monday circulate a draft resolution among the 15 members proposing further sanctions on M23 leaders and again calling for an end to outside support for rebellion.
“Refugees have fled, the situation is very dire, the M23 has total disrespect for what the Security Council has said,” said Araud, adding that he hoped the resolution would be adopted this week.
Oxfam’s humanitarian coordinator Tariq Riebl said more than 50,000 people had fled camps and homes in Goma and on the outskirts of the town and were in desperate need of shelter, water and food.
“If fighting intensifies further, there are very few places people can go for safety. With almost 2.5 million people now displaced across eastern Congo, this catastrophe requires a concerted humanitarian and diplomatic response,” Riebl said.
Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Jackie Frank