February 10, 2015 / 6:25 PM / 4 years ago

Exclusive: U.N. pauses support for Congo campaign against rebels over abuses

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations peacekeeping mission in Democratic Republic of Congo has paused support to Congolese troops for operations against Rwandan rebels because two of the generals involved are accused of human rights abuses, a U.N. official said on Tuesday.

U.N. peacekeepers drive in their armoured personnel carrier (APC) as they patrol the road towards Kibati, outside Goma in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, August 30, 2013. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

Under the United Nations human rights due diligence policy, the world body has to ensure its support to non-U.N. security forces does not contribute to grave human rights violations.

“The U.N. Mission in the DRC has raised concerns linking two FARDC (Congolese army) generals to human rights violations, and therefore we have paused our support to FARDC on anti-FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) operations,” the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters.

The FDLR includes former soldiers and Hutu militiamen responsible for Rwanda’s 1994 genocide and has been at the heart of years of conflict in Central Africa’s Great Lakes region.

The United Nations was in high-level contact with the Congolese government and confident a solution could be reached, the official said. Peacekeepers are still supporting other Congolese operations not linked to the planned FDLR campaign.

Congolese government spokesman Lambert Mende told Reuters: “There is no response. No comment ... It’s their problem. We have nothing to say on that.”

A senior U.N. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, last week described the U.N. support for FARDC operations as “critical”, ranging from millions of pounds of rations and thousands of gallons of fuel to operational support from U.N. combat helicopters, surveillance drones and peacekeeping units.

U.N. peacekeepers had been jointly planning an offensive with the Congolese army against the FDLR, which the United Nations estimates has 1,400 rebels in eastern Congo.

The rebels failed to meet a January deadline to surrender and then Congolese army chief of staff Didier Etumba announced that the operation against the group would instead be an FARDC-led military offensive with U.N. support.

Congolese authorities appointed General Bruno Mandevu to head the FARDC operation against the FDLR and General Fall Sikabwe as commander of the 34th military region, which covers the key area in eastern Congo where the offensive will happen.

The senior U.N. official has said both generals were “known to us as having been heavily involved in massive violations.”

“We intend to fully support the FDLR operations as soon as the outstanding issues regarding command of the operations are resolved,” the U.N. official said on Tuesday.

Additional reporting by Aaron Ross in Kinshasa; Editing by Chris Reese and Grant McCool

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