KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — Rebels in eastern Congo are threatening to view United Nations peacekeepers as hostile forces unless the world body explains its role and refrains from further attacks.
The veiled threat came only days after U.N. helicopter gunships on Thursday bombarded several of the M23 rebels' positions near Rutshuru in North Kivu province.
In a letter to the U.N. Security Council, obtained by The Associated Press on Sunday, the rebels allege that civilians were killed in the air raids, without providing a death toll.
They say if the Security Council fails to explain the peacekeepers' "real mandate," they will assume that it has changed to make the U.N. an active partisan force, which would mean "to tell our forces to set up defenses against the U.N. troops, their infrastructure and staffers."
A detailed response is necessary to avoid that the M23 rebels will respond to armed attacks in the same way, "regardless of who is the author" of such an attack, said the letter dated Friday.
Congo has the world's largest peacekeeping force of some 20,000 troops and police. A spokesman for the U.N. mission said he could not comment on the matter because he had not seen the letter.
The rebels want to strike an agreement with the Congolese government, but Kinshasa has said it will negotiate only with Rwanda, which is accused of supporting the rebels. Rwanda denies the charges.
The U.N. has so far failed to help the Congolese army's attempts to bring peace to mineral-rich eastern Congo to succeed. More than a dozen local militias and foreign rebel groups terrorize the population there.
Congo's 150,000-strong army is demoralized, ill-equipped, badly paid and has proven no match for a few hundred motivated and well-armed rebels.
East Congo's conflict is a hangover from Rwanda's 1994 genocide. Hundreds who participated in the killings of some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus escaped into Congo and still fight there today. The M23 rebels are the latest incarnation of a group of Congolese Tutsi rebels set up to fight Rwandan Hutu rebels in Congo.
Since the movement began in April, more than 200,000 people have been forced from their homes, with 20,000 fleeing across borders to Rwanda and Uganda.