UN leader Ban Ki-moon vowed on Sunday that peacekeepers will stay in the DR Congo city of Goma after UN combat helicopters and government troops failed to stop a rebel advance amid growing international alarm.
Government troops and local officials were already fleeing the city, said several sources.
The M23 rebels, army mutineers whose uprising in April has unleashed fresh unrest in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s chronically unstable east, are now near the airport of Goma, the main city in the mineral-rich region.
The UN warned there was a “real threat” that Goma would fall. Rebels had already warned that they would seize the city if they came under attack from the army.
But Ban said the UN troops “will remain present in Goma and will continue all efforts to robustly implement its mandate to the fullest of its capabilities with regard to the protection of civilians.”
The UN chief “emphasises that any actions to undermine or target MONUSCO (the UN mission) will not be tolerated,” according to a statement released by his office.
The United Nations has about 6,700 troops in Nord Kivu province, backing government forces against rebels who have moved to the edge of Goma in recent days. About 1,500 of them are in Goma.
UN attack helicopters have staged cannon and rocket strikes against the rebels but have not been able to stop the steady advance towards the capital of Nord Kivu, a key mineral producing region.