The United Nation mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Monusco) has said it is working on a solution to resettle fighters loyal to South Sudan’s ousted vice-president Riek Machar after one of its convoys was attacked on Friday.
Following a resurgence of violence in July 2016 between troops loyal to South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and former vice-president Riek Machar, Machar fled the capital Juba in August. He crossed into DRC accompanied by several hundred people, including armed elements and civilians.
In October, hundreds of people in the eastern province of North Kivu demonstrated against the presence of the rebels, claiming the 752 individuals affiliated with the SPLM/A-IO (Machar’s Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army in Opposition) pose a threat to communities in the region and called for their relocation to another country.
A convoy of the UN peacekeeping mission, carrying 17 South Sudanese fighters to the UN-run Munigi cantonment facility was attacked on Friday (9 December) near the province’s capital, Goma. The fighters were returning to the camp – home to some 522 combatants – after receiving treatment from the Monusco hospital in Goma.
Upon its arrival at the camp, the convoy was ambushed by local residents, hostile to the presence of Machar’s troops in the region.
Blocking the road, the local population threw rocks on the vehicles before briefly holding hostage members of the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) process. The UN confirmed no casualties had been reported.
The attack once again highlighted growing tensions over the presence of the South Sudanese fighters in the region, where foreign armed groups such as the remnant Rwandan Hutu rebel group FDLR and the Ugandan Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) have previously settled and allegedly committed numerous human rights violations.
“So the presence of another foreign group is somewhat frightening. We understand that, but we are simply saying that Monusco came to support the governmental authorities, which wished to relocate fighters who had crossed the border, far from the Sudanese-Congolese border,” Monusco mission spokesman Charles Bambara told RFI.
“At the time, the United Nations are strongly supporting not only Kinshasa’s government but also of Juba to find solutions. We know that solutions are currently being looked into on the South Sudanese side to see to which extent some of these fighters, or former fighters, will be able to voluntarily rejoin their country, South Sudan. Others, upon their request, could be sent to other countries but negotiations are underway in the sub-region to find mid and long-term solutions.”
South Sudan’s bloody conflict has claimed the lives of at least 50,000 people caused the displacement of more than 1.2 million civilians.