United Nations to Eastern Congo Rebels: Lay Down Your Weapons

The U.N. Security Council demanded Thursday that Rwandan rebels in eastern Congo lay down their arms and threatened further sanctions if fighting continues in the restive border region.

A resolution adopted unanimously by the council urged warlords and militia fighters in eastern Congo, as well as the government, to take immediate action to implement the peace accord they signed on Jan 23 committing all sides to an immediate cease-fire followed by a withdrawal of fighters from key areas.

France's Foreign Minister Jean-Maurice Ripert, who sponsored the resolution, said "the council sent a very strong signal" to the rebels in eastern Congo.

"We are threatening them of further sanctions if needed," he said. "We want them to disarm. We want them to stop activity, and to join the process of peace."

The resolution said the peace deal and a Nov. 9 agreement between Congo and Rwanda calling for Congo to disarm Rwandan Hutu rebels based on its territory "represent a major step towards the restoration of lasting peace and stability in the Great Lakes region."

Five years after the end of back-to-back wars that destroyed much of Congo by 2002, sporadic violence has continued to plague the vast nation's eastern border region, which is divided up into zones controlled by rival factions.

Local militias regularly clash with one another, as well as with Congolese army forces and with perpetrators of the 1994 Rwandan genocide who fled over the border to eastern Congo's vast forests and hills.

The resolution demanded that all members of the Interahamwe Hutu militia, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Rwanda, or FDLR — a Rwandan militia group whose commanders helped organize and participated in Rwanda's 1994 genocide — and other Rwandan armed groups "lay down their arms."

The council also demanded that the Rwandan rebels then "immediately present themselves without any further delay or preconditions to Congolese authorities" and U.N. peacekeepers "for their disarmament, demobilization, repatriation, resettlement and reintegration."

It also demanded that the Rwandan militias stop recruiting child soldiers, release all their child fighters, and end all forms of violence including rape and sexual abuse. It stressed the need for those responsible for these violent acts to be brought to justice.

The Security Council has already imposed an arms embargo on "any recipient" of weapons in the country, and travel and financial restrictions on political and military leaders of foreign armed groups deemed to be violating the arms embargo, impeding disarmament efforts, recruiting child soldiers, or targeting children during fighting.

The resolution adopted Thursday stressed that the travel ban and asset freeze apply to leaders of the FDLR, the Interahamwe, and other Rwandan armed groups.

The council said it will consider "expanding their applicability" to other members of the rebel groups operating in eastern Congo, "or to persons providing other forms of assistance to them," depending on whether they comply with the demand to disarm.

It also stressed that the arms embargo applies to all foreign armed groups and illegal militias in Congo.

The resolution calls on all U.N. member states "to consider taking the measures necessary to prevent the provision by their nationals or from their territories of any financial, technical or other forms of support" to the FDLR, the Interahamwe, and other Rwandan groups.

France's Ripert said the council will "monitor very closely what is going on on the ground, and if we have to make ... further decisions, and act, we'll do it."