/ 18 December 2008

UN official casts doubt on DRC peacekeepers

A 17 000-strong peacekeeping mission in the DRC is no longer equal to the task after a recent upsurge in fighting, a top UN official says.

A 17 000-strong peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is no longer equal to the task after a recent upsurge in fighting, a top United Nations official said on Wednesday.

Although the force known as Monuc is the largest ever force to be assembled by the UN, mission chief Alan Doss said the blue helmets had found themselves overwhelmed, adding an increasing number of rights abuses were being committed by both pro-government and rebel forces.

Hopes that Monuc would be beefed up have recently been dashed, with European nations making clear they have no desire to send their troops to the vast African nation and Doss made clear Monuc was no longer fit for purpose.

”We came to this country as part of a peacekeeping operation, and I think that with the events of late August and late October, our presence on the grounds is no longer what is required for the situation,” Doss told reporters.

In an end-of-year assessment, Doss said that the last 12 months may have begun ”with signs of hope” evoked by a peace treaty but had ended up being a ”horrible year” with a humanitarian crisis of ”disastrous consequences”.

During his press conference in the capital, Kinshasa, Doss also urged all sides to stop the abuse of civilians, specifically appealing to rebel leader Laurent Nkunda, whose National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) forces now control large swathes of eastern Nord Kivu province.

”I have asked Nkunda to put an end” to the abuses, he added, singling out the town of Kiwanja, 80km north of the main eastern city of Goma.

”The rebels of the CNDP are in this zone and it is up to them to protect the civilians and prevent abuses being committed,” said Doss.

Monuc has been widely criticised over its inability to stop the fighting and to protect civilians in Nord Kivu, where 6 200 of the overall force are currently deployed.

Monuc has in recent weeks accused Nkunda’s men of killing at least 13 civilians and forcibly recruiting 200 young men.

On Tuesday, Monuc military spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Jean-Paul Dietrich said Nkunda’s men had kidnapped civilians, extorted money at road blocks and forced them to work repairing roads.

A CNDP spokesperson blamed government troops and their allied militias.

Doss warned all the armed groups operating in the east of the country that they could be held to account for the killing and abuse of civilians.

”I warned that these exactions could be considered as war crimes,” he said. But Monuc itself had no mandate for the arrest of war criminals, he added.

Meanwhile a report by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) released on Wednesday detailed the devastating price the country’s civilian population was paying.

The UNDP report said that 75% of the population lived below the poverty line — less than a dollar a day.

More than half the population (57%) had no access to drinking water or to basic healthcare (54%), while three out of every 10 children were poorly nourished, it added.

And there was a 47% chance that a Congolese would die before his or her 40th birthday.

”The absence of peace and security constitute the major obstacles to lasting development in DRC,” wrote the authors of the report. ”So it is absolutely imperative to restore peace and re-establish security.” — Sapa-AFP