UN and Democratic Republic of Congo troops are reinforcing a key city in the east of the country to guard against attack by rebels who have seized ground in recent days.
DR Congo authorities and the United Nations fear that the M23 movement, which took one town on the Uganda border last week and forced 600 government troops to flee, may target the provincial capital of Goma, UN officials said.
“It would be disastrous if Goma was taken,” said a UN official who gave details of the reinforcements on Tuesday.
The UN Security Council is to discuss the new strife on Tuesday while international leaders will use an African Union summit in Addis Ababa this week to try to defuse tensions between DR Congo and Rwanda over the fighting.
M23, a group of mutineers led by accused war criminal Bosco Ntaganda, has already briefly taken other towns near its new stronghold in Bunagana.
The DR Congo government is moving a US-trained battalion from the north of the country to eastern Goma, the official told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The battalion, previously used in the hunt for Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) fighters, will join about 7,000 troops already in Nord Kivu province, of which Goma is the capital.
The UN mission in DR Congo, known by the acronym MONUSCO, is moving Ghanaian troops and Guatemalan, Jordanian and Egyptian special forces from its 18,000-strong peacekeeping force to the city, said the UN official.
MONUSCO’s deputy forces commander, General Adrian Foster of Britain, has moved to Goma to run the UN operation, as UN troops will help with planning, logistics, fuel, transport and other support.
They have already gone into battle to protect civilians, and one Indian peacekeeper was killed last Friday.
“This is all to ensure that we can strengthen our support to ensure that Goma does not fall and also to provide wider protection of civilians in the area affected by the M23,” said the UN official.
M23 broke away from the government army in April complaining about conditions. In the past two weeks its numbers have grown from about 1,000 to 2,000 fighters.