GOMA, Congo (AP) — About 200 demonstrators marched toward a United Nations base in eastern Congo on Friday to protest a statement from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressing concern over alleged rights abuses committed by the military.
Carrying placards with slogans including "The UN is mocking us" and "Let our armed forces do their job," the marchers were dispersed by police before reaching the base, which is the headquarters for the U.N.'s 19,000-strong MONUSCO peacekeeping mission.
The protesters were angry about a statement issued by Ban on Wednesday amid fresh fighting between the military and the M23 rebel group, said Serge Sivya, a spokesman for the group.
The statement said Ban was "deeply concerned" over reports Congolese soldiers were desecrating rebel corpses, and that the U.N. peacekeeping mission was reviewing its support for army units suspected of being involved. Congo's government announced Thursday that a deputy commander had been arrested over his alleged role in the practice.
"We are protesting that the U.N. is asking for our troops to be put on trial, and we think they are targeting commanders who have shown their prowess in battle," Sivya said.
The same demonstrators took to the streets earlier in the week, before Ban's statement was issued, protesting a decision by the government to halt apparently successful military operations against the rebels north of Goma. Those protests were broken up by police firing tear gas and live ammunition into the air.
The U.N. peacekeeping mission was heavily criticized last year for standing by when the M23 rebels swept into Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, having routed government forces. The rebels withdrew in return for peace talks, which have repeatedly stalled.
In fresh fighting that began Sunday, the Congolese army pushed the rebels back and, according to the government, inflicted heavy casualties. The area around Goma fell quiet Thursday after four days of heavy fighting.
Civil society representative Nestor Bauma said he believed Ban had a right to express concern about rights abuses. "But he should not forget the realities on the ground. If people think the U.N. is trying to block an army advance you can imagine what can happen," he said.
A Congolese army officer, who insisted on anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press, said the army condemned the desecration of corpses but said the perpetrators' "combat stress" should be taken into account.