UN's DR Congo chief hails success in eastern offensive

The head of the UN mission in DR Congo welcomed Wednesday what he called military success in the country's strife-torn east, but emphasized that rebuilding efforts there are still necessary.

After a successful defeat last month of M23 rebels there, the UN and the Congolese government announced that Rwandan ethnic Hutu rebels operating in the eastern part of the country would be their next target.

Martin Kobler spoke to reporters after briefing the UN Security Council on operations against the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda).

He spoke after the UN command announced that peacekeeping troops had launched an offensive against the FDLR the day before.

But the UN had already authorized its peacekeepers to go after armed groups and militias earlier this month.

Kobler also highlighted the performance of the mission's recently acquired reconnaissance drones, two of which have been in operation since last week with three others expected to join.

"I brought a message of hope to the Security Council," said Kobler, who maintained that many areas have been liberated from groups such as the M23 rebels and the FDLR.

But the military success will fade, he warned, if civilians, particularly the young, do not benefit from increases in "healthcare and education."

Kobler estimated the FDLR combatants number between 1,500 and 1,800, with 70 percent of fighters under age 30.

He also said that there had been "quite a number of surrenders" in recent weeks.

France's UN Ambassador Gerard Araud told the council that "several thousands of rebels (from various groups) have given up their weapons."

Unlike the M23 who are "waging a traditional war" the FDLR operates in "small groups in small villages, with their families, among the civilian population," Araud said.

Kobler emphasized that drones were therefore essential in avoiding civilian casualties during fighting.

According to diplomats, Kobler told the Security Council that unlike M23 rebels, the FDLR is dodging combat with Congolese and UN forces.

Diplomats also added that beyond drone imagery, the UN mission is receiving information on the FDLR from Rwanda.

The FDLR is made up of Hutu rebels based in Congo since they fled Rwanda after the genocide in 1994, some of whom are accused of taking part in the massacre of ethnic Tutsis.

MONUSCO, the acronym for the UN's DR Congo initiative, forms one of the two biggest UN missions in the world, along with the force in Darfur, Sudan.