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By Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Rwandan rebels in Democratic Republic of Congo believe an extended deadline to disarm allows them to stall, a top U.N. official said on Thursday, suggesting military action against factions which do not comply or commit human rights abuses.
Rwandan FDLR rebels, who seek to overthrow the Rwandan government and who include former soldiers and Hutu militia held responsible for Rwanda's 1994 genocide, announced in April they would disarm, and some began doing so in May.
The Congolese government presented a 22-day plan for the group to disarm in May, but since then, the United Nations said, only 186 rebels have voluntarily disarmed out an estimated 1,500. So, African nations agreed in early July to extend for six months the deadline for the FDLR to disarm.
"The FDLR interpreted this decision as a call to stall the process," the U.N. special envoy to Congo, Martin Kobler, told the U.N. Security Council. "In addition, the perceived absence of military pressure has thrown the process into a freezer."
He said FDLR leaders have largely ignored U.N. and Congolese attempts to persuade the group to continue disarming, describing it as "a serious sign of non-cooperation."
"Experience has shown that only a combination of political and military pressure has led to disarmament and demobilization," Kobler told the Security Council.
Congolese Foreign Minister Raymond Tshibanda told the council that after the extension of the disarmament deadline, Congolese authorities had made clear to the FDLR that "the military option was still on the table and it could take place at any time if their behaviour ... lacked credibility."
Kobler said the United Nations, which has a 22,000-strong peacekeeping force in the country, and the Congolese government need to agree on criteria for assessing the disarmament process and what action to take if compliance was insufficient.
Kobler's suggestions included assessing the number and quality of surrendering combatants, immediate cessation of human rights violations, disengagement from illicit economic activities and an end to recruitment.
"Meanwhile, I suggest joint military action against those FDLR factions not willing to disarm and act against those who continue to commit human rights violations," he said.
The U.N. peacekeeping mission received a boost last year with the unprecedented deployments of unarmed surveillance drones and a U.N. Intervention Brigade of 3,000 troops, which helped Congolese forces defeat the M23 rebel group.
Rwanda's U.N. ambassador, Eugene Gasana, said "military pressure seems to be the only viable option" for disarming the FDLR. "Despite its claims of readiness to disarm, the FDLR continues to recruit and train combatants, including children," he said.
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, backed Kobler's suggestion, saying military pressure on the FDLR should not be suspended during the demobilization process.
"Given the FDLR's track record of committing atrocities at the same time that it claims to be demobilizing, this would put even more innocent civilians at risk and undercut broader efforts to establish peace and stability," Power said.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)