DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania — Rebels behind a year-long insurgency in Democratic Republic of Congo have warned Tanzania they will target its soldiers if they join a U.N. mission aimed at neutralizing armed groups, a Tanzanian cabinet minister said on Saturday.
Foreign Minister Bernard Membe dismissed threats of "mass killings" and said the 1,000 soldiers, part of a new 3,000-strong intervention force, would respond to any aggression from the M23 rebel group.
"We are not going to Congo as lords of war, we are going there as advocates of peace to help our neighbors," Membe told parliament.
Threatening letters had been sent to President Jakaya Kikwete's office as well as the national assembly, he said.
The Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) will be part of the existing U.N. peacekeeping mission in the mineral-rich east of Democratic Republic of Congo called MONUSCO, which was heavily criticized for failing to halt M23's sweep across swathes of the country last year.
"The U.N. troops are there, but they are not doing anything," Membe said.
Tanzania would only withdraw its troops from the mission, he added, if M23 disarmed, engaged in peace talks and stopped committing rape and murder.
Negotiations between the government in Kinshasa and the rebels mediated by neighboring Uganda have stalled.
The intervention force, the first time the United Nations has created such a unit within a traditional peacekeeping force, is expected to deploy in the coming weeks and will be commanded by a Tanzanian general.
It is expected to comprise three infantry battalions, one artillery and one special force and reconnaissance company, with troops also coming from South Africa and Malawi.
The new United Nations special envoy to the region, former Irish president Mary Robinson, said last week a military solution was not the only way to end the spiral of conflict in the resource-rich region that has killed millions of people.
Robinson said the intervention brigade's deployment must not detract from the search for a durable political solution.
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