UN extends DRC sanctions as refugee flows increase

Resolution prohibits selling or supplying weapons to rebel groups, blocks travel of some militia leaders, politicians.

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    Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced in Ituri province in June [Samir Tounsi/ AFP]
    Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced in Ituri province in June [Samir Tounsi/ AFP]

    United Nations - With civilians fleeing a spate of inter-ethnic violence in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday extended its arms embargo, asset freeze and a travel ban on the country until July 2020.

    The sanctions prohibit countries from selling or supplying weapons to rebel groups in the DRC, which has been wracked by conflict since the early 1990s and has seen a recent spike in violence in Ituri province.

    A French-drafted resolution, which was passed unanimously at a brief meeting, requires governments to block the travel of designated militia leaders and politicians and to freeze their bank accounts and other assets.

    In the document, the council said the DRC’s violence "continues to constitute a threat to international peace and security in the region". As well as extending sanctions, members authorised UN experts to continue probing violations there until August 2020.

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    The resolution also urged the DRC government to "swiftly and fully investigate" the deaths of two UN investigators and the four Congolese nationals accompanying them, who were killed in March 2017.

    The UN researchers - Michael Sharp of the United States and Zaida Catalan of Sweden - were probing alleged atrocities during fighting in the central Kasai region between government forces and the local Kamuina Nsapu militia, which prosecutors blame for their deaths.

    The DRC government should "bring those responsible to justice", the document said.

    As diplomats met in New York, the latest spate of violence in a decades-old conflict between militias connected to Lendu farmers and Hema herders continued to send civilians from eastern DRC spilling across the border into Uganda.

    About 300 people cross the border every day, amounting to about 7,500 civilians so far this month, the UN refugee agency's (UNHCR) spokesman Andrej Mahecic said on Tuesday. At least 160 people have been killed in the past two weeks.

    "Recent arrivals speak of extreme brutality. Armed groups are said to be attacking villages, torching and looting houses, and killing men, women and children," Mahecic said in a statement.

    "Some refugees are arriving with significant belongings, fearing they will not be able to return home for some time. Others who have fled imminent danger have little more than the clothes on their backs."

    The gold-rich region has experienced extreme violence before, with some 60,000 people killed and 500,000 others displaced by fierce clashes between the Hema and Lendu between 1999 and 2003, according to the UN.

    DRC violence: Thousands trapped amid fighting in Ituri province

    Some 4.5 million people have fled various conflicts across the vast central African nation. Parts of the country's eastern region have experienced insecurity and armed conflict involving local and foreign forces since the early 1990s.

    Ituri and North Kivu province, just to the south, are also trying to halt a major epidemic of Ebola that has claimed more than 1,500 lives since it emerged last August. Both provinces are on DRC's eastern border with Uganda.

    In their latest report, UN experts raised some hopes of improved stability in DRC following the inauguration in January of Felix Tshisekedi as president, in the country’s first peaceful transition of power since it gained independence from Belgium in 1960.

    According to the experts’ report, which was released earlier this month, a growing number of armed groups in DRC appeared willing to put down their guns and demobilise under the right conditions.

    But the panel said numerous local and foreign armed groups continued to pose “serious security threats” in DRC, attacking civilians and soldiers, and targeting army camps and depots in order to seize weapons and ammunition.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News