The UN Security Council slapped an arms embargo Monday on M23 rebels and their alleged Rwandan allies, the FDLR, amid a flare-up of violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s eastern region.
The council committee tasked with monitoring sanctions on the Congo also imposed a travel ban and asset freeze on two key M23 figures: the group’s civilian leader Jean-Marie Runiga Lugerero and Lieutenant Colonel Eric Badege, a commander suspected of being responsible for the deaths of women and children.
The decision came just hours before Rwanda was set to join the council as a non-permanent member on Tuesday.
“We believe these designations will directly help advance the goal of a sustainable peace in eastern DRC,” US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said in a statement.
“We urge the rank and file of both the M23 and the FDLR to defect and demobilize in order to disassociate themselves from the sanctioned groups.”
UN experts accuse Congo’s neighbors Rwanda and Uganda of backing the M23, an accusation both countries deny.
The Security Council has already issued targeted sanctions, the latest round at the end of November, against three M23 military leaders — Sultani Makenga, Baudoin Ngaruye and Innocent Kaina — but had yet to sanction the entire group.
Britain’s Africa minister Mark Simmonds welcomed the agreement, adding: “We remain committed to finding long-term solutions which will end the cycle of violence in the DRC.”
“The dialogue needed to resolve the crisis must ensure that all violence stops, that external support to M23 ends and that there is no impunity for M23 commanders and others who have committed serious human rights abuses, including the FDLR,” he added.
Simmonds called for “leadership” from the Congolese government to address the underlying causes of the conflict.
The UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has accused the M23 of arbitrary executions, forced disappearances, degrading treatment and rape of civilians in and around Goma after taking over the eastern Congo city in November.
But M23 rebels have rejected the claim.
“For years, the FDLR has committed atrocities against civilians and remains a threat to the stability of North and South Kivu,” Rice said.
“Today’s action against the FDLR is a critical step toward ending impunity and advancing peace.”
She warned of “additional action” by the council if necessary “against those who persist in providing external support to M23 or act in violation of the sanctions regime and arms embargo.”
Although the council has repeatedly denounced external support to the M23, it has not cited Rwanda or Uganda by name so far.
Congolese military officials allege that the M23 have formed an alliance with the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda in a bid to gain more territory in the region.
The M23 was formed in April by former fighters in the National Congress for the Defense of the People, an ethnic Tutsi rebel group that was integrated into the army under a 2009 peace deal whose terms the mutineers claim were never fully implemented.
The FDLR’s members are ethnic Hutus who were soldiers in the Rwandan army before being forced out of the country in the wake of the 1994 genocide, which killed 800,000 people — mostly Tutsis