What's In Blue

Democratic Republic of the Congo: Briefing

Tomorrow afternoon (20 February), the Security Council will convene for a briefing on the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the DRC and Head of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) Bintou Keita is expected to brief. France, the penholder on the file, requested the meeting to discuss the deteriorating security situation in eastern DRC.

Last week, on 12 February, Council members held closed consultations, also at France’s request, to receive a briefing from Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix and Under-Secretary-General for Management Strategy, Policy, and Compliance Catherine Pollard on their 1-7 February visit to the DRC. (For more information, see our 12 February What’s In Blue story.)

Following the meeting, Ambassador Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett (Guyana), in her capacity as February’s Council President, read out press elements agreed by Council members, in which they expressed concern about the escalating violence in eastern DRC and the ongoing tensions in the region. Council members condemned the offensive launched on 7 February by the Mouvement du 23 mars (M23) near Goma, the capital of the North Kivu province, and the military activities of all other armed groups operating in the country. They also condemned the violence in Kinshasa on 10 February targeting UN personnel and other diplomatic missions and called for impartial investigations into the incidents.

Tomorrow’s meeting comes against the backdrop of the continued worsening of the situation in North Kivu in light of the intensified fighting between the Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC) and allied militias, on the one hand, and the M23, on the other. In her briefing, Keita may describe the latest developments on the ground and the challenges faced by MONUSCO, as outlined in two white notes which were prepared by the UN Secretariat and recently circulated to Council members. A 12 February white note apparently observed that the M23 offensive was supported by large numbers of reinforcements and noted that new sophisticated weaponry has entered the battlespace. It seems that the note described several incidents in which MONUSCO and FARDC equipment and positions were targeted by such weapons as a mobile short-range air defence system (SHORAD) that was located at an M23 position, and quadcopter drones equipped with explosives, which were launched by an unconfirmed actor.

Keita may reference another incident that occurred on Saturday (17 February), in which a Congolese military aircraft stationed at the Goma airport reportedly sustained minor damage in a drone attack. The DRC accused Rwanda of instigating the attack. In an apparent response to this accusation, Rwanda’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation issued an 18 February press statement alleging that the DRC has been posing a threat to Rwanda, leading Kigali to adjust its security posture. This includes “measures to ensure complete air defense of Rwanda, and to degrade offensive air capabilities, following the introduction of advanced Chinese CH-4 attack drones by DRC in 2023, and repeated violations of Rwandan air space by Congolese fighter jets”.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Keita is also likely to describe MONUSCO’s joint operations with the FARDC, known as Operation Springbok, initiated in November 2023 to safeguard the cities of Sake and Goma. On 16 February, the mission announced through X (formerly Twitter) the deployment of a South African contingent from its Force Intervention Brigade to reinforce Operation Springbok. Despite these efforts, anti-MONUSCO sentiments have been on the rise among the Congolese population. Keita may express serious concerns about the attacks against the mission, including the 10 February violence in Kinshasa. She may also note that MONUSCO has faced hostile acts and restriction of movements by armed militias known as Wazalendo, which are fighting alongside the FARDC, as apparently described in the 12 February white note. These developments reportedly prompted the DRC’s Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Defense, Jean-Pierre Bemba, to travel to Goma on 13 February to reassure the population that MONUSCO is supporting the FARDC.

Keita may also refer to the support provided to the FARDC by the Southern African Development Community Mission in the DRC (SAMIDRC), which is comprised of contingents from Malawi, South Africa, and Tanzania and has been deployed in North Kivu since December 2023. On 14 February,  two SAMIDRC troops from South Africa were killed and three others injured in a mortar attack, according to a 15 February press release of the South African National Defence Force. South African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Naledi Pandor spoke to the media following this incident, reaffirming South Africa’s commitment to continue assisting the Congolese people and underscoring SAMIDRC’s role as a “bulwark against the expansion of the conflict to the whole country”.

In contrast, in a 12 February letter to the Security Council, Rwandan Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Vincent Biruta alleged that SAMIDRC “is not a neutral force in the current crisis”, accusing the mission of supporting the DRC government’s “belligerent posture, which bears the potential for further escalation of the conflict and increased tensions in the region”. The letter was an apparent response to Lacroix’s statement at his meeting with the SAMIDRC force commander, General Dyakopu Monwabisi, in Goma during his recent visit to the DRC. According to a 7 February MONUSCO press release, Lacroix indicated that the mission is currently exploring possibilities for providing limited operational and logistical support to the SAMIDRC. He added that the nature of this support, as well as the modalities, will be determined by the Security Council in due course. In resolution 2717 of 19 December 2023, which most recently renewed MONUSCO’s mandate, the Council requested the Secretary-General to submit a report in June, which will include his recommendations on this matter.

Biruta requested that the Security Council not consider such support, saying that it would risk escalating the situation. He also sought to draw the Council’s attention to two press releases by UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide Alice Wairimu Nderitu, issued on 30 November 2022 and 24 January 2023, which expressed deep alarm about indicators and triggers observed in the region that could lead to atrocity crimes. Furthermore, he accused the presidents of the DRC and Burundi of publicly declaring their support for regime change in Rwanda and mentioned the preventive and defensive measures being taken by his country in this regard.

Biruta made these accusations following the 12 February visit of Burundian President Évariste Ndayishimiye to Kinshasa, where he reportedly met with his Congolese counterpart to discuss the security situation in eastern DRC. Burundi has deployed its forces in eastern DRC as part of a bilateral agreement with the Congolese government. Relations between Rwanda and Burundi have been strained after Burundi decided in January to close its borders with Rwanda, accusing it of supporting Burundian armed groups—an allegation Rwanda has denied. Burundi’s decision apparently came after a 22 December 2023 attack by Red Tabara, a Burundian armed group operating in eastern DRC, that targeted a village near Burundi’s western border with the DRC and reportedly resulted in the killing of 20 people, including 12 children.

Keita may refer to the mini-summit convened by Angolan President and Chair of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) Joao Lourenço on 16 February in Addis Ababa on the margins of the AU summit, which was held on 17-18 February. The mini-summit saw the participation of regional leaders and AU Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat, who discussed ways of restoring a cessation of hostilities and facilitating direct talks between the DRC and Rwanda to avoid the further expansion of the conflict into a regional conflagration. Keita may also mention Lourenço’s bilateral meetings with the presidents of the DRC and Rwanda on 17 February following the mini-summit and his apparent intention to continue his diplomatic engagement with the two leaders in Luanda. Furthermore, she may reference the tripartite meeting of the leaders of Burundi, the DRC, and South Africa in Addis Ababa on 17 February, which apparently focused on the coordination of forces operating in eastern DRC in support of the FARDC.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members are likely to express their continued concerns over the escalating security situation in eastern DRC, which has heightened regional tensions. They may also reiterate their condemnation of the M23 and other armed groups operating in eastern DRC. Council members may recognise the need to reactivate the regional initiatives under the auspices of the East African Community (EAC) and the ICGLR—known as the Nairobi and Luanda processes, respectively—to address the security situation in eastern DRC. In this regard, they may welcome the mini-summit convened by Lourenço and express support for his mediation efforts.

Some Council members may call on the DRC and Rwanda to de-escalate tensions and resolve their differences through dialogue. The US issued a strong statement on 17 February condemning “Rwanda’s support for the M23 armed group”. The statement called on Rwanda to “immediately withdraw all Rwanda Defense Force personnel from the DRC and remove its surface-to-air missile systems, which threaten the lives of civilians, UN and other regional peacekeepers, humanitarian actors, and commercial flights in eastern DRC”. The US also called on the DRC to cease its cooperation with the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR), saying that this armed group has been described as a “negative force” by regional bodies and the Congolese government. In its 18 February statement, Rwanda criticised the US’ statement, which it viewed as contradictory to the confidence-building process initiated by Washington in November 2023, when US Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines visited the region and spoke with the leadership of the DRC and Rwanda. Rwanda expressed serious disappointment about the FDLR’s characterisation as an “armed group” and a “negative force”, recalling its designation by the US in the Terrorist Exclusion List in 2001.

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