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UN: Major offensive begins vs. other Congo rebels

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CARA ANNA | December 11, 2013 02:58 PM EST | AP

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — United Nations officials say a major offensive has begun against a Rwanda-linked rebel group in eastern Congo following last month's defeat of the M23 rebels.

The officials on Wednesday told the Security Council that defeating the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, or FDLR, will be difficult because they live among the general population, increasing the risk of civilian deaths. The group was formed by extremist Hutus from neighboring Rwanda who took part in that country's 1994 genocide, then fled across the border.

The offensive against the smaller FDLR began Nov. 27, said the U.N. Special Representative in Congo, Martin Kobler. Other, smaller armed groups also are the target, but some already are giving up their weapons with the defeat of the M23.

"Important progress was made this week," Kobler said, especially with the opening of a key route from the newly liberated town of Pinga toward the regional city of Goma. The road had been closed for two years, he said.

Kobler estimated the size of the FDLR forces at 1,500 to 1,800, but that's difficult to estimate as many live among the civilian population.

French Ambassador Gerard Araud, the current Security Council president, called the defeat of the M23 a success but a fragile one. Last month, the M23 fled under pressure from the Congolese army, U.N. peacekeepers and a newly created U.N. special intervention brigade.

"When you look at where we were eight months ago, I'd say that's quite a feat," Araud said.

The U.N. officials also were optimistic about the launch of the first fleet of U.N. drones this month in the eastern Congo. The U.N. Security Council gave approval in January for the trial use of unarmed drones for intelligence gathering there. Five in all are being launched in the region.

Congolese Minister of Defense Luba Tambo has said the drones will play a critical role in helping patrol the porous border with Rwanda.

Araud has said other U.N. missions in other parts of the world have already requested the use of drones.