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Goma, DRC/ North Kivu - M23 fighters in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo “must disarm”, UN special envoy Mary Robinson said on Monday on a visit to the restive city of Goma, where Congolese and UN forces are battling the rebels.
“The M23 must cease violence, must disarm as the UN Security Council demanded,” Robinson said after meeting local officials and residents.
Congolese troops, backed by the UN's Monusco mission in the country, launched a fresh assault on the rebels in the turbulent North-Kivu province after an upsurge in fighting since August 22 which has left 13 dead, according to authorities.
The offensive has seen rebels retreat from positions which they had held around Goma since December, with the frontline now around 30km away from the city, a key mining hub.
Robinson, the former president of Ireland, pushed for a political solution to the conflict, saying in French that there was “a window of political opportunities at the moment”.
Peace talks between the rebels and the government, held in the Ugandan capital Kampala, have been virtually deadlocked since they started at the end of 2012.
Earlier on Monday, Robinson met the governor of North-Kivu province, Julien Paluku, and spoke with residents affected by the recent unrest.
“What happened here in Goma is terrible. I'm glad that calm has returned,” Robinson said after her arrival, which coincided with a lull in fighting, according to a photographer near the frontline.
“I have come for the people of Goma, the women, the children. That is what is important,” Robinson said.
Her tour also took in a visit to injured Congolese soldiers in Goma's hospital.
The military offensive came amid fresh accusations from UN experts that Rwanda, which borders DR Congo, is financing the M23, a predominantly ethnic-Tutsi force that deserted from the Congolese army last year to turn its guns on its comrades.
Kigali has always rejected the claim.
Robinson said she would have “no problem” in involving Kigali in future direct talks.
The two eastern Kivu provinces, North and South, have been severely unstable since two wars wracked the vast country between 1996 and 2003, drawing in armies from neighbouring and southern African countries, who fought in part over access to vast mineral wealth.
The M23 rebels have emerged as one of the most formidable forces operating in the DR Congo's east. They accuse the Kinshasa government of reneging on a 2009 peace pact and a deal to hold direct talks, and have threatened to attack Goma again. - Sapa-AFP