The UN has played down an apparent deadline for rebel fighters in the volatile eastern Democractic Republic of Congo (DRC) rebels to lay down their weapons.
UN peacekeepers appeared to issue an ultimatum on Thursday when they said they had started a new effort to disarm DRC fighters, setting up a zone where only the country’s security forces can now carry firearms.
The drive was aimed at stabilising the eastern city of Goma and the areas around it – a region that is home to more than one million people who have faced waves of rebellions and attacks from armed groups in recent years.
Most recently, it has been the scene of attacks on army positions by rebels from a group known as M23.
The UN on Friday played down a statement issued on Friday by its peacekeeping mission in the country, known as MONUSCO, which appeared to issue an ultimatum before beginning the disarmament effort.
“With the expiration of the 48-hour deadline, MONUSCO and Congolese armed forces will take up patrols to make sure that weapons are not being held by any unauthorised people,” Carlos Araujo, MONUSCO spokesman, told UN-run Radio Okapi on Thursday.
We will fight to the very end
The intervention brigade said that it was not issuing an ultimatum to the M23 rebels, who said in response to the MONUSCO statement that they would fight back if the UN brigades attacked.
In New York, UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said of the ban: “It is not
an offensive operation and is not targeted at any one armed group.”
He said that the disarmament effort would protect civilians.
Bertran Bisimwa, M23 president, told Al Jazeera earlier that the group were Congolese fighting for a cause.
“We will fight to the very end,” he said.
UN sources told Al Jazeera that there were objections from UN headquarters in New York .
“This period of 48 hours: I said before, it’s one opportunity to any persons or any group to drop the weapons. It’s an opportunity to particpate voluntarily (in) the peace process,” said General Santos Cruz, the UN force commander.
The M23 group briefly seized control of Goma last November and peace talks with the government have repeatedly stalled.