South African troops forming part of the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC) may be required to engage the forces of Tutsi insurgent leader Laurent Nkunda.
SA has a battalion of infantry near Goma in North Kivu province, where they form the mobile reserve of the MONUC Eastern Division. The battalion, 121 SA Infantry, is normally stationed in northern KwaZulu-Natal and is in the Congo on a six month deployment. SA has over a thousand soldiers, sailors, airmen and medics in the country, mostly as part of MONUC.
News service Bloomberg reports the UN’s head of peacekeeping operations Alain le Roy says the force has been ordered to open fire on Nkunda`s troops if they try to enter Goma.
“If armed groups, whoever they might be, want to enter Goma, the rules of engagement of the United Nations and Chapter 7 are sufficiently clear, that in this instance the instructions to be given are to shoot,” Le Roy told a press briefing in Goma.
Nkunda declared a unilateral cease-fire last week after advancing to within 10 kilometres of Goma. UN peacekeepers fired in self-defence yesterday after being caught in the crossfire as clashes erupted yesterday for a second day between pro-government Mai Mai militia and Nkunda’s insurgents at Kiwanja, 74 kilometers north of Goma, MONUC head Alan Doss, told reporters.
“This is a peacekeeping operation,” Le Roy said. “This is not really a peace enforcement operation, but we are dragging more and more into peace enforcement. That’s the difficulty we’re facing.”
The UN and aid agencies say fighting go between Nkunda’s National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) and the Congolese army has displaced 250 000 people in the past two months.
Bloomberg adds that Nkunda says he’s protecting Congo’s Tutsi minority from the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, or FDLR, a mainly ethnic Hutu militia, whose leaders were among the stream of Hutus who fled Rwanda across the border into the Kivu region after the 1994 genocide in that country.
Meanwhile, Chinese news agency Xinhua reports UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon is on his way to Nairobi, in Kenya, to attend an UN-backed, Africa Union-organised summit there tomorrow that will aim to end the interminable crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Xinhua says the presidents of Kenya, the DRC, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and South Africa are expected to attend.
Speaking to reporters in New York, Ban said he would sit down with President Joseph Kabila of the DRC and Rwandan President Paul Kagame and “encourage them to find a path to peace.”
The Southern African Development Community – of which the DRC is a member – will discuss the situation at a summit in Johannesburg on Sunday.
Meanwhile, AFP quotes the UN as saying refugee camps at Dumez, Nyongera and Kasasa had been destroyed and about 50 000 displaced people had fled. Others had crossed the border into Uganda, where the UN says up to 10 000 refugees have gone since violence resumed in August.
Elsewhere, newly nominated UN special envoy for east Congo, and former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo says peacekeepers may need to be redeployed or given a stronger mandate to end violence in the region.
Reuters says Obsanjo will also attend tomorrow`s Nairobi summit. “There is a (UN) military mission of some 17 000 troops in Congo, there are humanitarian organisations, there are civilians working for the U.N.,” Obasanjo said in a telephone interview as he prepared to leave for Kenya.
“What exactly is the mandate of the United Nations in DRC? Do we need a stronger mandate or do we need a reassessment and redeployment to meet the challenges on the ground? … the meeting I am having will clarify things a little bit,” he said.
Ban has asked the UN Security Council to approve a “surge” of more than 3 000 troops and police to help prevent full-scale war in eastern Congo, but Reuters says there is little sign that the divided world body will discuss the request quickly.
“We need at least two more battalions, one being very mobile, which should also be very well equipped,” Le Roy, told reporters in Goma, capital of Congo’s eastern North Kivu province. The extra two battalions together would amount to 1 600 troops.