KINSHASA, Congo — The United Nations is sending more peacekeepers to cities in Congo's North Kivu province to help combat rebel attacks in the country's east, an official said Wednesday, as Congo's army said it has regained control of two towns the rebels took over the weekend.
Roger Meece, special representative of the U.N. secretary-general and head of the U.N. mission in Congo, said that they are coordinating with the Congolese army to protect major cities, including Goma. The notoriously ill-equipped Congolese army has been struggling to contain the rebellion.
Meece also condemned any support by Rwanda for the M23 rebel movement.
"There is a lot of information that implicates support by Rwanda in the M23 rebel movement. It's an unacceptable situation and it must stop immediately," he said. Rwanda has denied the U.N. experts report that accuses it of helping to create, recruit for and arm Congo's latest insurgency.
Julien Paluku, governor of North Kivu, said Congo's soldiers have regained control of Rutshuru and Kiwanja, which the rebels took over the weekend but then withdrew from for negotiations with the government. On Sunday the head of the M23 rebels told reporters that they planned to leave all the towns they took, except Bunagana, as they waited to hear if the government is ready to negotiate their demands over the March 23, 2009 peace deal that had paved the way for them to join the army. Bunagana is a strategic mineral trading post at the border with Uganda.
The M23 rebel movement also released a statement this week that said they've appointed a political coordinator for their movement.
Also Wednesday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and President Joseph Kabila of the Congo "to discuss the deteriorating humanitarian and security situation in eastern (Congo) and identify possible steps to resolve the crisis," according to a statement from Ban's spokesman.
The conflict in east Congo is a spillover from Rwanda's 1994 genocide. Hundreds who participated in the killings of some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus escaped into Congo and still fight there today. The M23 rebels are the latest incarnation of a group of Congolese Tutsi rebels set up to fight the Rwandan Hutu rebels in Congo.
At their most successful, the rebels reached the gates of Goma in 2009, when Kabila's government capitulated by reaching a rapprochement that allowed the rebels to be integrated into Congo's army and troops from neighboring Rwanda to deploy in Congo to fight the Rwandan rebels. This time around, they are believed to number only a few hundred — enough to take urban areas but not enough to hold them.
Since the movement began in April, more than 200,000 people have been forced from their homes, with 20,000 fleeing across borders to Rwanda and Uganda.
In addition to Rutshuru and Bunagana, the rebels had taken the localities of Ntamugenga, Katale, Rubare and Kalengera.