Washington – US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday called on all regional African leaders to halt any support for the M23 rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Highlighting that 285 000 people have fled their homes since the rebels began their advance in eastern DRC in April and many were in “critical need”, Clinton urged the rebels to cease attacks and withdraw from Goma.
“We call on leaders and governments from throughout the region to halt and prevent any support to the M23 from their territory,” Clinton said, in some of her toughest comments yet on the crisis stalking the Great Lakes region.
“The humanitarian impact of this conflict in the eastern part of the country is devastating,” she added after talks with the African Union chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma at the State Department.
“With regard to the M23 rebel group there is only one way forward. They must meet their commitments… to cease their attacks, withdraw from Goma and pull back to the July lines.”
The dramatic escalation in the uprising of the M23, army mutineers, has raised fears of a wider conflict and a new humanitarian crisis.
Rights groups and UN officials have accused the rebels of killing, raping and abducting civilians.
The top US diplomat for Africa, assistant secretary Johnnie Carson, was in the region this week for talks with the leaders of DRC, Uganda and Rwanda – although he was unable to meet with Rwandan President Paul Kagame.
No major moves
Rwanda and Uganda played active roles in back-to-back wars from 1996 to 2003, and the UN has accused them of backing M23, a charge both countries deny.
A weekend summit of regional leaders called on the M23 to leave Goma, but also urged President Joseph Kabila’s government to address their grievances.
Clinton said “any military assistance from anyone to the M23 is in violation of the UN arms embargo” and said the US had been heartened by the results of the summit. “Now we want to see it implemented.”
Asked about Rwanda’s support for the M23, Dlamini-Zuma said the African Union approach to the conflict was “that it doesn’t help us in fingerpointing, we just need a solution”.
“Rwanda is part of the Great Lakes. They have taken a decision that there must be a neutral force, and Rwanda was there and supported that decision. That M23 must move out of Goma, Rwanda was there and supported that decision.”
The United Nations said on Wednesday that despite the pledge to leave Goma by the end of the week, the Congolese rebels have made no major moves to go.
Goma is the main city in the Kivu region abutting Rwanda and Uganda, and was a flashpoint in the past wars fought largely over control of its vast mineral wealth, including copper, diamonds, gold and key cell phone component coltan.