UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. peacekeepers in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo cannot substitute for the country’s own security forces, the United Nations said on Tuesday, after the world body’s troops gave up the battle against rebels for the city of Goma.
Fighters from the M23 rebel group, widely believed to be backed by neighboring Rwanda, entered Goma on Tuesday following days of clashes with U.N.-backed Congolese soldiers that forced tens of thousands of residents to flee.
“MONUSCO (the U.N. mission in Congo), of course, cannot substitute for the efforts of national security forces including the FARDC (Congo national army),” said Eduardo del Buey, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s spokesman.
“The U.N. peacekeepers’ use of force is principally to protect civilians and not to engage in armed confrontation for a broader military purpose,” he said.
A senior U.N. source told Reuters earlier on Tuesday that the peacekeepers gave up defending the frontier city of about 1 million people after the Congolese troops evacuated under pressure from the advancing rebels.
Del Buey said there were about 1,500 peacekeepers in Goma, who would stay “to protect civilians from imminent threat.”
“MONUSCO remains in control of the airport in Goma. Robust patrolling by 17 quick reaction force teams is also ongoing,” he said. “MONUSCO is closely monitoring the situation.”
“Reports indicate that the M23 has wounded civilians, is continuing abductions of children and women, is destroying property and is intimidating journalists and those who have attempted to resist their control,” Del Buey said.
The M23 rebellion has aggravated tensions between Congo and its neighbor Rwanda, which Kinshasa’s government says is orchestrating the insurgency as a means of grabbing the chaotic region’s mineral wealth. Rwanda denies the assertion.
U.N. experts say Rwanda, a small but militarily capable country that has intervened in Congo repeatedly in the past 18 years, is behind the revolt. The experts have also accused Uganda of aiding M23.
Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Stacey Joyce and Bill Trott