An UN-backed military operation in eastern Congo in which government soldiers are accused of massacring hundreds of civilians will end this month, the top UN official in Congo said.
“Kimia II will be completed on Dec. 31,” UN special envoy to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Alan Doss, told the Security Council during a meeting on the UN peacekeeping mission there, known as MONUC.
However, he made clear to reporters that MONUC was keeping open the option of continuing to engage in future “targeted operations” with the Congolese army against rebel enclaves.
The United Nations has backed Congolese government forces in a nine-month operation called Kimia II against Rwandan Hutu rebels in Congo’s east. The United Nations says it bolstered stability by supporting the operation but aid agencies had argued against UN support due to heavy civilian casualties.
Doss said the operation’s main goal to disperse the rebels and weaken their ability to exploit Congo’s mineral wealth “has been largely achieved although we do recognize that there have been very serious humanitarian consequences.”
But the fight against the rebels, some of whom are suspected of participating in neighboring Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, is not over, he said.
“The FDLR (Rwandan Hutu rebels) remains a potential threat and they will seek to return to their strongholds and punish the population for collaboration with governmental forces, if they are allowed to do so,” he warned the 15-nation council.
Doss also praised the Congolese army’s newly approved strategy, under which it would focus on holding ground recovered from the rebels and preventing attacks on civilians while going after areas where insurgents might have regrouped.
Rights activists say Congo’s ill-disciplined army, cobbled together from former rebels, militia groups and government loyalists, is one of the country’s worst human rights abusers. The United Nations has documented wide-ranging abuses committed by the army since the offensive began in March.
Doss acknowledged to the council that with the integration of demobilized rebels into Congo’s FARDC army, “the problem of discipline in the FARDC has worsened.”
He said MONUC would continue to condition support for specific Congolese army units on their willingness to prevent violence against civilians by their soldiers. Last month, MONUC halted logistical and operational support for a Congolese army brigade it accused of killing at least 62 civilians.
A UN human rights rapporteur who recently visited Congo, Philip Alston, said in a statement there had been “insufficient planning for civilian protection, and civilians have been raped … and massacred in revenge attacks by the rebels.”
The New York-based Human Rights Watch advocacy group issued a 183-page report earlier this week that detailed what it said was the “deliberate killing” of over 1400 civilians between January and September 2009 in two Congolese army operations.
Council diplomats said the United States, Britain, France and other council powers have made clear to MONUC and Kinshasa that more attention must be paid to protection of civilians.
Congo’s army denies the scale of the alleged abuses and says it is trying to improve its system of accountability.
Diplomats say the Security Council is under pressure from Congolese President Joseph Kabila to come up with an exit strategy for MONUC, the biggest UN peacekeeping force in the world, ahead of the 50th anniversary of Congo’s independence from its former colonial master Belgium on June 30, 2010.
The council plans to renew the mandate of MONUC in the coming days for another five months, according to a draft resolution obtained by Reuters. That, diplomats say, will give the UN time to prepare a plan to reconfigure MONUC to focus more on training Congo’s army than it has in the past.
Over 1 million Congolese have been displaced since 2006 polls. Wars since 1998 have killed over 5 million in Congo.