World Bulletin / News Desk
''DRC authorities issued an ultimatum in a general manner to the country’s UN peacekeeping mission to deport South Sudanese rebels rescued by UN forces,'' said Felix Basse, spokesman for the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO), late Wednesday.
However, he gave no details of the ultimatum.
Some 750 armed fighters loyal to former South Sudan Vice President Riek Machar fled to the DRC this August. Since most were injured from their long journey while battling government forces, MONUSCO removed them from the border area and took them to their bases in North Kivu province for treatment.
But late last month local North Kivu authorities began protesting against the South Sudanese fighters remaining, saying their presence poses a security risk.
They cited how in the late 1990s Rwandan rebels who had been defeated by government troops had similarly been welcomed before they began attack and killing Congolese nationals in villages.
But the UNHCR has tried to dissociate itself from the South Sudanese fighters, saying they are not refugees.
''We need to distinguish between combatants and refugees. The small group under question here is a group of combatants. As combatants, they are not refugees. The group is separate from the tens of thousands of civilians who fled South Sudan to DR Congo and are protected as refugees,'' said UNHCR spokesman Andreas Kirchhof.
He added that they are holding talks with South Sudan, the DRC, and other neighboring countries to reach a solution.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo is hosting over 40,000 South Sudan refugees who fled their country after the eruption of fighting between government troops and rebels loyal to Machar this July.