The United Nations peacekeeping mission in Congo announced Tuesday that it plans to disarm anyone outside the national security forces who is caught with a firearm in the eastern city of Goma and its northern suburbs.
The new policy will go into effect on Thursday at 4 p.m. to establish a security zone in the region, where the M23 rebel group has been attacking army positions repeatedly since mid-May, according to a statement.
Anyone caught in violation of the policy “will be considered an imminent threat of physical violence to civilians” and will be forcibly disarmed if necessary, said the statement.
More than 1 million people live in the area encompassing Goma and the town of Sake, including 70,000 people displaced by fighting, the mission said.
Though there are many armed groups in eastern Congo, the statement seemed clearly targeted at M23, noting that fighting between the rebel group and the army resumed earlier this month.
“In these attacks … M23 has used indiscriminate and indirect fire, including by heavy weapons, resulting in civilian casualties,” the statement said. “The M23 has also targeted U.N. installations with its fire.”
But Amani Kabasha, a civilian spokesman for M23, said he did not believe the new policy would apply to the rebel group. He said that because M23 had agreed to peace talks with Congo’s government, rebel leaders considered themselves to be partners of the government and welcomed the disarmament plan “with joy.”
“MONUSCO can attack armed groups that spread terror here, indeed it is long overdue,” Kabasha said, using the U.N. peacekeeping mission’s acronym. “I do not think we are affected by this measure because we are the partners of the Congolese government in making peace.”
M23 formed as a mutiny last year and briefly held Goma last November. Peace talks with the government have repeatedly stalled.
The U.N. mission’s statement said the disarmament plan would involve elements of a newly formed intervention brigade and could be expanded to other areas.