"The UN has declared war" said a UN public information official as he flapped around his office yesterday, warning that the next day, he "may be working from the trenches." He handed me the press release and a map.
BBC News' Africa section runs as its second story "[t]he UN has given rebels from the M23 group in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo 48 hours to disarm, warning force will be used if they fail to do so", a line also featuring on the news wires.
Maybe I read the map wrong, or maybe I'm just cynical, but all of this seems to be wrong, or at least misleading...
The UN has said, via a statement delivered yesterday by the new Brazilian UN Force Commander in Congo, that anyone "who carries a firearm in Goma and its northern suburbs" (and who is not part of the national security forces) must hand in their weapon within 48 hours, i.e. by 2pm (GMT) on Thursday, and join a disarmament and reintegration programme. After which time, "MONUSCO will take all necessary measures to disarm them, including by the use of force".
Strong words, until you look at the map.
The security zone extends north from Goma's shoreline on Lake Kivu, all the way up to ... the FARDC's (government army) front-lines. The western flank of this, where it deviates from the Rwandan border, is dotted, and annotated "This part of SZ [Security Zone] - TBC will follow rear of FARDC lines".
In other words, M23 is not really implicated in this "Security Zone".
This hasn't stopped the headline-grabbing rebel group from reacting, however. An article published this morning on Congo DRC News (which appears to be a mouth-piece of the rebels) repeats the line that "MONUSCO demands that M23 hand-in their weapons"*. Of course, it plays into M23's propaganda machine that they have bases within the Security Zone, which they still claim to hold. (Ten days ago, when speaking with Lt-Col. Kazarama, the M23 spokesman, at the military barracks in Rumangabo, he still claimed that the rebels held Kanyarucinya, a village on the far outskirts of Goma. I had driven through Kanyarucinya two hours previously, and it was fully in the hands of the government forces.)
In effect, the Security Zone will implicate a disarmament of smaller bands of militia within the government territory, likely impossible to implement. Will the army and MONUSCO forces be going door to door, searching for arms under mattresses? Or will armed men step out of the Security Zone and into the bush? Many of the "self defence" groups that operate in this territory wield not the "firearms" of the UN's statement, but machetes.
The UN is cranking up its pressure—in-line with its new mandate—on armed groups, but despite the headlines, this is not a war on M23.
* My translation
UPDATE: The BBC article has updated its article, softening down the language. It now runs the headline "DR Congo unrest: UN orders Goma to be arms-free", and the top line, from which I took the citation listed above, has been changed to "The UN has given residents of the Democratic Republic of Congo city of Goma 48 hours to disarm, warning force will be used if they fail to do so."