- Associated Press - Thursday, June 4, 2015

KINSHASA, Congo (AP) - Congo’s army and U.N. forces should work together in the fight against rebels in the east, a top U.S. State Department official said Thursday, despite lingering concerns about the human rights records of Congolese generals involved in the campaign.

In February, the U.N. formally ended support for a Congo military offensive against the FDLR militant group after two Congolese generals linked to human rights violations were picked to lead the operation.

The U.N. had previously said removal of the FDLR would be “a turning point” for security in the region, where a number of armed groups have wreaked havoc for years. The FDLR was formed by extremist Rwandan Hutus who fled into eastern Congo after taking part in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

But Congo has so far not complied with U.N. demands that Gen. Bruno Mundevu and Gen. Fall Sikabwe be removed from the operation. The U.N. says the generals are known to be involved in “massive human rights violations.”

In an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday in Kinshasa, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Tom Malinowski said the U.N. and Congo’s army shouldn’t let “disputes” block the kind of cooperation that led to the toppling of the M23 rebel group in 2013.

“What we need is for the government and the United Nations to work together, to resume the cooperation that was so effective in the past and not to let any disputes between them delay cooperation that is needed to save the lives of people in the east,” said Malinowski, who is assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor.

Malinowski also voiced “concerns about shrinking space for civil society” as Congo prepares for elections in 2016. Congo briefly detained a U.S. diplomat in a March raid that targeted journalists and pro-democracy activists, accusing them of threatening stability.

President Joseph Kabila is barred from seeking a third term in 2016, though mass protests erupted in January against proposed changes to the electoral law that were widely seen as an attempt by the president to prolong his time in power.

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