(Reuters) – Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda on Friday backed a proposal from U.N. peacekeepers to deploy unmanned surveillance drones along Congo’s eastern border, where rebels have carved out a fiefdom.
The United Nations says the nine-month insurgency, which has dragged the mineral-rich region back towards war, has received cross-border support from Rwanda and Uganda, accusations strongly denied by both governments.
Herve Ladsous, the U.N. head of peacekeeping, said last week he had asked the Security Council for three drones to fly along the porous border in Congo’s mountainous east, after thousands of U.N. peacekeepers failed to prevent rebels capturing the strategic city of Goma in November.
“The Congolese government welcomes this proposition,” Congo’s Information Minister Lambert Mende told a news conference in the capital Kinshasa.
“The deployment of three unarmed drones will allow international troops to refine their management of the problematic border which separates DRC and Rwanda.”
Kampala, which is hosting talks between Congolese authorities and the rebels despite charges it is backing the insurgency, gave cautious support for the plan on the condition the drones are not used for combat purposes.
“Drones can be used for two purposes: you use them for intelligence or for fighting. If a drone is for intelligence and it respects sovereignty, it will be alright,” Ugandan Defense Minister Crispus Kiyonga told a news conference in Kampala.
Rwanda, which holds a seat on the Security Council, said this week it opposed the drones until their use was fully assessed.
The country’s deputy U.N. ambassador warned that Africa should not “become a laboratory for intelligence devices from overseas”.
A U.N. report last year said Rwanda had sent weapons and troops through the hills which separate the two countries to support the M23 rebels, who it said received their orders from top Rwandan officials including the defense minister.
Kigali strongly rejected the reports findings and has in turn accused Congo of failing to weed out Rwandan rebels operating in its territory.
Despite the official end in 2003 of a regional war that drew in a host of neighboring countries, much of eastern Congo remains under the control of armed insurgencies and militia groups accused of rapes and killings. Nearly two decades of instability have left millions Congolese dead.
The Tutsi-dominated M23, named after a 2009 peace deal that saw a previous rebellion integrated into the army, initially took up arms saying the government had failed to respect the terms of the agreement.
It later expanded its demands and threatened to march across the vast Central African nation and topple the government of President Joseph Kabila.
M23 leaders announced a unilateral ceasefire on Tuesday ahead of a second round of peace talks with the government in Kampala, boosting hopes of a negotiated end to the uprising.
By Jonny Hogg and Elias Biryabarema
(Editing by George Obulutsa, Joe Bavier and Alison Williams)