Spy drones heading to eastern Congo

M23 rebels withdraw from the city of Goma in the eastern Congo on December 1, 2012.

The Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda have expressed support for a proposal by the United Nations to deploy surveillance drones along Congo’s eastern border.

In October 2012, UN experts issued a report, in which they said that Rwanda and Uganda continued to support the March 23 movement (M23) rebels, who had set up a parallel government in the provinces of North Kivu and South Kivu in eastern Congo.

On Tuesday, UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said he had asked the Security Council for three aircraft-size drones to deploy along the border in Congo’s mountainous eastern region.

“The Congolese government welcomes this proposition,” Congolese Information Minister Lambert Mende said in Kinshasa.

“The deployment of three unarmed drones will allow international troops to refine their management of the problematic border which separates DRC and Rwanda,” he added.

Uganda, which has been selected as the mediator for the talks between the Congolese government and M23 rebels, also expressed its support for the plan on the condition the drones are not used for combat missions.

“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 said in Kampala.

On December 31, 2012, the UN Security Council unanimously agreed to impose an arms embargo on M23 and another rebel group known as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).

The sanctions freeze assets of certain people linked to the groups and bar two M23 leaders — the rebel group’s president, Jean-Marie Runiga, and one of its military commanders, Lt. Col. Eric Badege — from travel.

The M23 rebels seized the eastern city of Goma on November 20 after UN peacekeepers gave up the battle for the frontier city, which is home to about one million people. The rebels withdrew from the city on December 1 under a ceasefire accord.

The M23 rebels defected from the Congolese army in April 2012 in protest over alleged mistreatment in the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC). They had previously been integrated into the Congolese army under a peace deal signed in 2009.

Since early May, over 900,000 people have fled their homes in the eastern Congo. Most of them have resettled in Congo, but tens of thousands have crossed into neighboring Rwanda and Uganda.

Congo has faced numerous problems over the past few decades, such as grinding poverty, crumbling infrastructure, and a war in the east of the country that has dragged on since 1998 and left over 5.5 million people dead.

GJH/HGL