UN peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo announced a joint operation with the national army Friday designed to stop M23 rebels from capturing key eastern cities.
The announcement follows a surge in clashes with the M23 group since last month, which has forced 200,000 people from their homes according to the UN, after a period of relative calm.
It also comes after the Congolese government requested the departure of the unpopular UN peacekeeping force known as MONUSCO.
Addressing reporters in the eastern city of Goma, MONUSCO Force Commander General Otavio Rodrigues de Miranda Filho said the recent escalation was highly concerning.
The conflict “represents a major threat to humanitarian access and to displaced persons, many of whom are sheltering in sites on the outskirts of Goma,” he said.
A new joint military operation with the Congolese army — dubbed Springbok — will aim to protect Goma and the nearby town of Sake, Miranda Filho explained.
The M23 is now advancing southwards towards Sake, the force commander also said.
A Tutsi-led group, the M23 has captured swathes of territory in eastern DRC since launching an offensive in late 2021, displacing over one million people.
The United States and several other Western states have concluded that Rwanda backs the M23, although Kigali denies the claim.
MONUSCO is one of the world’s largest and most costly UN peacekeeping missions, with an annual budget of around $1 billion.
Peacekeepers have been present in DRC since 1999 but militia violence has nonetheless continued to plague the east.
The current 14,000-strong peacekeeping force is deeply unpopular due to perceptions that it is ineffective.
The Congolese government has requested MONUSCO’s “accelerated” departure, from December.
At the news conference on Friday, Guillaume Ndjike, a Congolese army spokesman, said that “MONUSCO has always been by our side.”