In a bid to quell violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the United Nations Security Council imposed an arms embargo late Monday on two armed groups accused of rape and mass killings.
The decision came just before Rwanda, which has been accused of backing the rebels, temporarily joined the powerful council. The country has fervently denied involvement in the Congo crisis, but U.N. experts and human rights groups say its fingerprints are evident in the recent bloodshed.
The new sanctions target the M23 rebels, who are suspected of being funded and armed by Rwanda, and the FDLR, an armed Rwandan group linked to Hutu fighters who fled their homeland after its devastating genocide in 1994, during which hundreds of thousands of Tutsis and sympathetic Hutus were slain.
The Security Council also slapped a travel ban and financial freeze on the M23 president and one of its military commanders, expanding the list of rebels under targeted sanctions.
The rebellion first erupted in April, as fighters loyal to Gen. Bosco Ntaganda mutinied over claims that the government had failed to live up to an earlier peace deal that absorbed them into the military. It escalated in November when the M23 occupied the key eastern Congo city of Goma, setting off international alarm that a regional war could be in the works. The rebels withdrew from the city two weeks later, saying they could easily retake it if needed.
Human Rights Watch and other groups critical of the Rwandan role in the conflict have been fearful that its joining the council could chill efforts to hold Rwandan officials accountable for backing the rebels. Several human rights advocates have also criticized U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan E. Rice for opposing stiffer action against Rwanda.
The M23 have wreaked havoc on eastern Congo, slaying civilians en masse, forcing young men and boys to fight, and raping women and girls, some reportedly as young as 8, the U.N. Security Council said in a document justifying the arms embargo. The FDLR has attacked civilians with machetes and knives and has been tied to more than 100 incidents of sexual violence between December 2011 and September 2012, the U.N. said.