The Security Council has told United Nations peacekeepers in strife-torn eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to prioritise the protection of civilians, including humanitarian personnel, as the number of attacks on aid workers, some of them deadly, passed 100 since the start of the year.
“As we pass this awful threshold of 100 reported attacks on aid workers in the DRC this year, I insist in the strongest terms that all the armed groups operating in that country, including the national army, ensure the safety of these essential staff, not least for the sake of the people they are desperately trying to help,” UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes said in a separate statement.
The UN News Centre says Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon`s special envoy for the Great Lakes Region, Olusegun Obasanjo has described talks he is leading between the DRC government and a leading rebel group in the east, where an upsurge in fighting has driven over 250 000 more people from their homes since August, as both difficult and encouraging.
In unanimously adopted resolutions the Council extended the mandate of the 20,000-strong UN Mission in DRC, known by its French acronym MONUC, for another year until 31 December 2009, and renewed until 30 November 2009, sanctions intended to stem the illicit flow of weapons into the DRC and the illicit export of mineral resources that fuel the rebel groups.
The Council condemned the mainly Tutsi Congrès national pour la Défense du people (CNDP) for repeated military offensives which have caused massive displacement of populations in North Kivu province, and the illegal presence of the mainly Hutu Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR) which it said “represent one of the primary causes for the conflict in the region.”
It also denounced attacks by the rebel Ugandan Lord`s Resistance Army (LRA) in Orientale Province and the resumption of hostilities by illegal armed groups in Ituri province.
It expressed “extreme concern at the deteriorating humanitarian and human rights situation,” condemned “the targeted attacks against the civilian population, sexual violence, recruitment of child soldiers and summary executions,” and stressed the urgent need for the DRC government in cooperation with MONUC and other actors to end abuses carried out by militias, armed groups, and elements of the government army, police and security services.
The Council called on MONUC, using “all necessary means within the limits of its capacity” and working in close cooperation with the DRC Government, to make the protection of civilians, including aid workers, a priority, contribute to improved security for the provision of humanitarian aid, and assist the voluntary return of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs).
The Mission is to deter the use of force by any armed group, foreign or Congolese, coordinate operations with the government army`s integrated brigades and support operations led by these brigades to disarm recalcitrant local and foreign armed groups to ensure their participation in the disarmament, demobilisation, repatriation, resettlement and reintegration processes.
The Council stressed the importance of MONUC implementing the mandate fully, “including through robust rules of engagement,” and called on the Mission to strengthen its efforts to prevent and respond to sexual violence, “including through training for the Congolese security forces,” in light of the scale and severity of such abuses by armed elements.
It also urged the DRC and Rwandan governments to take concrete steps to defuse tensions and reiterated its demand that all armed groups, in particular the CNDP, the FDLR and the LRA, immediately stop recruiting and using children and release all children associated with them.
Reporting on the “dialogue” he is facilitating between the DRC government and the CNDP, Obasanjo noted that the CNDP had refused to sign a draft cessation of hostilities agreement to strengthen unilateral ceasefire declarations already made by both sides and declined to recommit itself to its own unilateral ceasefire.
Instead it alleged that the government army had occupied positions from which it had voluntarily withdrawn under its own ceasefire. But investigations by mediators proved the allegations to be unfounded, Obasanjo said.
Both sides, however, confirmed their continued commitment to the dialogue and are scheduled to hold their next meeting on 7 January.
Bloomberg reports the steps were welcomed by the Kinshasa government. “We are especially pleased that the mission, in strict cooperation with the government, is being strengthened and consolidated in terms of civilian protection,” DR Congo`s foreign minister, Alexis Thambwe Mwamba, said after the Security Council`s 15-0 vote to back a resolution from France.
Mwamba said the action addresses a “major disaster” in his nation.
Bloomberg adds the UNSC also ordered Ban to submit new rules of engagement for the troops by 31 January 31.
The UN has 18,515 soldiers and civilian police in Congo. The Security Council voted on 20 November to send 3085 additional peacekeepers, and France earlier this month called on the European Union to deploy an emergency force until reinforcements arrive.
Insurgent leader Laurent Nkunda says he is fighting in eastern Congo to protect the region`s Tutsi minority from ethnic Hutu militias, which took refuge there after participating in genocide in neighbouring Rwanda in 1994.
Monuc, has been criticised by civilians in the region and African leaders for failing to aggressively fight Nkunda.
The vote instigated a debate between Mwamda and Rwandan Ambassador Joseph Nsengimana, who said the Congolese army`s failure to protect Tutsis in eastern Congo “justifies Nkunda`s claim of being a protector” of the group.
Nsengimana denied UN allegations that his government has supported Nkunda with equipment, military advisers and recruitment of child soldiers.
Mwamba said the “underlying and real” reason for the conflict was the illegal foreign exploitation of Congo`s mineral resources, including coltan and cassiterite, which are used in electronics. “Neighbours” export these minerals even though they aren`t naturally found in their soil, Mwamba said, without naming the countries.
Bloomberg adds the resolution authorises the UN force to use “cordon and search tactics” and “all necessary operations to prevent attacks by any armed group or individual on civilians and disrupt the military capability of illegal armed groups that continue to use violence.”
Reuters says Tutsi rebels threatened on Sunday to advance into UN-monitored buffer zones in eastern Congo after refusing to sign a declaration ending hostilities with the government.
Following several days of UN-backed talks in Nairobi, Kenya, Nkunda`s negotiators also declined to recommit to their own unilaterally declared ceasefire in Democratic Republic of Congo’s North Kivu province.
Reuters says this raised fears of a collapse of a fragile truce and of a renewal of fighting.