UN battles to keep, attract DRC peacekeepers

The world’s largest UN peacekeeping effort risks unraveling in the the Democratic Republic of Congo, hampered by the potential loss of more than a quarter of its troops and an unwillingness on the part of other nations to supply more.

The top UN official for the DRC peacekeeping mission known by its French acronym Monuc conceded Thursday that India could pull out its nearly 4 400 troops that serve as the backbone of the 16 475-strong mission.

“The discussion is on with India about the future of its contingent,” Alan Doss said after briefing the Security Council.

“We all appreciate very much their support.”

Doss described the UN as a virtual beggar—not a single nation has been willing to help out in the nearly five months since the Security Council first authorised 3 085 additional troops for the mission.

“We haven’t made a lot of progress in terms of getting boots on the ground for the reinforcements we need,” he said. “We have to, cap in hand, knock on a lot of doors.”

A spokesperson for India’s UN mission could not immediately be reached for comment on Thursday.

UN officials say they simply do not have enough soldiers to effectively protect all civilians in the DRC, including at least one million who remain displaced by fighting in a country that is bigger than Western Europe but with only 480km of paved roads.

“The heavy lifting, I have to say, will still have to be done” by the Congolese national army, Doss said, though that will be difficult because Congo’s revenue has fallen 70% in recent months because of the collapse of commodity prices.

Pakistan’s 3 550 troops make up Monuc’s second-largest contingent, followed by about 1 300 troops each from Bangladesh and
Uruguay and more than 1 000 each from South Africa and Nepal.

“It’s time to start thinking about life after Monuc,” Doss told reporters.

The Security Council, after hearing from Doss on Thursday, made no official comment on the threats to the the DRC’s peacekeeping strength.

Instead, the 15-nation council authorised Mexican ambassador Claude Heller, this month’s council president, to commend UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s “substantial efforts ... to reconfigure Monuc in order to improve its efficiency and mobility
to ensure a better protection of civilians.”

The Security Council members also “commended the improvement of the relationship among the countries of the region”—DRC, Rwanda and Uganda mainly—but “expressed their grave concern about the continued population displacement and the massive violations of human rights,” Heller said.

“They were especially dismayed by reports of widespread sexual violence and continued recruitment of minors into armed groups, and
stressed the urgent need to end impunity for those responsible for these violations of human rights and international humanitarian law,” he said.

Though sexual violence “has reached horrific levels” and the use of child soldiers remain prevalent, Doss said, Monuc succeeded in removing 1 100 children from fighting since early this year.

Eastern DRC has been mired in mass killings, gang rapes and wholesale destruction of villages since Rwanda’s genocide almost 15 years ago swept over the border areas where marauding Hutu militias took refuge.

In late February and early March, just as the DRC’s rare cooperation with Rwanda and Uganda against armed rebel groups was nearing an end, Ban toured Monuc’s headquarters in Goma and visited a nearby UN-run camp for 20 000 people uprooted by the fighting in eastern DRC.

Fears of resumed violence are widespread among the displaced people, many of whom suffered from the wars and the recent advance by Tutsi rebel leader Laurent Nkunda’s troops that drove 250 000 people from their homes last year.

Nkunda contends he was defending the region’s minority Tutsis against the Rwandan Hutus.

Congolese and Rwandan forces drove out about 600 of the Hutu militia’s fighters earlier this year, and the Congolese army planned to force out 400 more. But that left thousands of Hutu militia fighters still believed to be in play in eastern DRC.

DRC and Uganda also teamed up to disperse some of the Lord’s Resistance Army rebel fighters to the north, but many remain.

In Nairobi on Thursday, the top UN and African Union envoys to the Great Lakes region of Africa said “the region is now yearning for peace” and that there is a “growing rapprochement between the governments” of Congolese President Joseph Kabila and Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

Olusegun Obasanjo, Ban’s envoy, and Benjamin Mkapa, the AU envoy, “expressed satisfaction that some internally displaced persons were starting to return to their homes” in the Great Lakes region that includes Burundi, Tanzania and Kenya.

But in Goma, the North Kivu provincial capital, Anna Ridout of relief group World Vision International said on Thursday there is still no peace in eastern DRC and the situation is expected to worsen in South Kivu province. - Sapa-AP

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