UN peacekeepers attacked in Congo

Sarah Coleshill 27 November 2008

A convoy of UN peacekeepers has been attacked in the Democratic Re¬public of the Congo (DRC).

The convoy had been stopped in Kibati, 6 miles from the capital, Goma, by the army who were searching for rebel soldiers last Sunday.

While the vehicles were station¬ary, the convoy was surrounded by hundreds of civilians throwing stones.

The army searched each vehicle and arrested 20 men, tying them up and announcing that they were CNDP (Congrès National pour la Défense du Peuple, National Congress for the Defence of the People) fighters loyal to the rebel leader Laurent Nkunda.

However, the UN has insisted that the men were actually pro-government Mai Mai militia who were be¬ing transported in a demobilization operation.

UN spokeswoman Sylvie Van Wildenberg told the BBC’s Network Africa programme: “There is a mis¬understanding. We were transport¬ing Mai Mai elements and we don’t know for which reason FADRC assumed they were CNDP.”

This is not the only recent problem in the UN peacekeeping mission. On Saturday, journalist Didace Namujimbo, 34, was shot by unknown attackers while getting out of a UN vehicle.

Officials in Goma have also had to intervene to prevent food aid from being intercepted and sold by market traders, recovering some 40 tonnes of aid.

BBC Correspondent Thomas Fessy has commented on the lack of trust between government troops and the UN forces mandated to support them.

The ongoing humanitarian crisis in the DRC has forced some 250,000 people to flee their homes.

The conflict began in August when violence erupted between government and rebel forces, and both sides have been accused of war crimes by the UN.

There have been reports of children being kidnapped to serve in the rebel army, while foreign forces are also being drawn into the con¬flict, triggering fears of a repeat of the Congolese war which involved nine nations for five years, ending in 2003. Angolan and Zimbabwean troops have been spotted amongst the fighters, and local journalists claim that some of the rebels are in the pay of the Rwandan army.

At the same time, the UN is struggling to manage the conflict.

The peacekeeping forces, sent in under UN’s strongest possible mandate (Chapter Seven, which gives the soldiers the right to use ‘all necessary means’- including lethal force- to resolve the conflict), were drawn from 18 nations, with the largest contingent (4,000 soldiers) coming from India, but these numbers have not been sufficient to repel the rebel forces.

UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon has called for 3,000 more troops, six weeks after an urgent ap¬peal for the same was issued by the civilian head of the mission in the DRC, Alan Doss.

It has yet to be seen whether these extra soldiers will make a difference. The rebel forces are experienced, having fought innumerable battles over the last decade, and know the region well. The largest rebel militias are also better equipped than government soldiers.

Sarah Coleshill