“This is intimidation, they must stop it,” Tanzanian foreign minister Bernard Membe told parliament. “If they provoke us, we will retaliate.”
Last month the M23 rebels, who operate in eastern DR Congo, warned they would retaliate if attacked by a new United Nations peacekeeping force, in which Tanzania are due to take a key role.
M23’s political leader Bertrand Bisimwa last month wrote to Tanzania’s parliament warning the fighters had previously beaten even “larger and better equipped” forces, and that the same would happen to Tanzanian troops if they continued in this “dangerous adventure”.
But Membe said Tanzania was not frightened.
“Our army is very strong. We will be in DRC as a force for peace, to restore peace in the burning house of our neighbour,” he said, accusing the rebels of “killing, raping and forcing several thousand people to flee.”
M23, named for a peace deal with the DRC government signed on March 23, 2009, emerged out of an ethnic Tutsi mutiny in the army in April 2012, on the grounds that Kinshasa was not upholding the pact. The rebels briefly seized the North Kivu provincial capital Goma in November last year.
In March, the UN Security Council unanimously approved the creation of a brigade of more than 2,500 troops with a mandate to conduct “targeted offensive operations” against rebels in eastern DR Congo, a mineral-rich area that has been gripped by conflict for more than two decades.
The UN force is due to consist of three infantry battalions, an artillery company, a reconnaissance company and “special forces”, with troops being mustered from South Africa, Malawi and Tanzania.