Pledged Congo peacekeepers fail to arrive


None of the 3000 new peacekeepers and military hardware promised by the UN Security Council last year has arrived in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the top UN official in Congo says.

In response to renewed fighting in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the Security Council in November approved a temporary increase of 3000 troops and police in the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo, known as MONUC, to 20 000. It is already the world’s largest UN force.

“The package that the council approved last year, none of it has shown up on the ground yet,” UN special envoy to Congo Alan Doss told Reuters in an interview.

“I know these things take time but I hope we can get boots on the ground and the other capacities we asked for — helicopters and so forth — as soon as possible.”

Doss will be able to plead directly to the Security Council today, when he briefs it on the situation in Congo.

In addition to regular troops, Doss has asked for special forces and intelligence specialists to help MONUC root out rebels across eastern Congo, an area the size of France.

But he said it was becoming increasingly difficult to get troops and hardware — particularly helicopters — out of troop-contributing states. They often have few soldiers to spare since many are deployed in other UN peacekeeping operations.

“It’s never quick and it’s getting more difficult because of the demands,” Doss said.

“Something like military utility helicopters, which are essential for the kinds of operations we’re running, just aren’t available at the drop of a hat.”

Doss said the situation in Congo‘s eastern state of North Kivu has calmed down considerably since renewed violence erupted last September. He said “the rapprochement between Rwanda and (Congo) and Uganda has made a huge difference.”

Congo allowed thousands of Rwandan soldiers into North Kivu in January to take on the Rwandan Hutu rebel Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) based there.

The operation marked a major advance in relations between the two countries, former enemies during a 1998-2003 war, and was touted as a success by government authorities in Kinshasa and Kigali when the Rwandans withdrew in late February.

The joint operations helped neutralize Congo’s own North Kivu-based Tutsi rebels, and the United Nations has said that the resulting improvement in security has allowed 300 000 internal refugees to return.

But FDLR fighters, some of whom orchestrated Rwanda‘s 1994 genocide in which 800 000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed, have returned to many of their former positions since Rwanda withdrew its army, provoking violence and displacement.

Doss said this continued threat was one of the reasons MONUC needs the 3000 peacekeepers it was promised last year.

“None of us will be complacent,” he said. “There’s still the issue of the ex-FDLR, the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) and the problem of general security, because you’ve got a lot of people wandering around there who’ve got some form of arms. I don’t think we can yet declare victory and go home.”

A Congolese-Ugandan-South Sudanese offensive against the Ugandan LRA rebels has brought a backlash by fleeing fighters who have killed some 1,000 civilians in recent months, according to Human Rights Watch and other rights groups.