MONUSCO holding fire to avoid triggering a battle and put civilians at risk: a U.N. spokesman

UNITED NATIONS — Nearly 1,500 U.N. peacekeepers in the eastern Congo city overrun by M23 rebel forces are holding fire to avoid triggering a battle, a U.N. spokesman said Tuesday.

The peacekeepers “cannot substitute for the efforts of national forces” in Goma, a city of 1 million, said the deputy spokesman for the secretary-general, Eduardo del Buey.

A Congolese military spokesman has expressed frustration over the lack of action by the peacekeepers.

But del Buey said the decision is made on the ground by the U.N. force commander. “There has to be a value judgment made,” he said. “Do you open fire and put civilians at risk, or do you hold your fire, continue your patrols, observe what’s happening and remind the M23 that they are subject to international humanitarian and human rights law?”

The U.N. troops, operating under the name MONUSCO, still hold the airport, del Buey said.

“MONUSCO troops will remain actively present in Goma and will continue all efforts within their capability to protect civilians from imminent threat,” he said.

“Reports indicate that the M23 has wounded civilians, continued abductions of women and children, destroyed and looted property and intimidated journalists and those who have attempted to resist their control,” del Buey added.