UN Congo envoy defends MONUC

The United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has fulfilled its duties in regard to protecting civilians against the deadly rampage of a notorious Ugandan rebel group over the past few months, the head of the mission, known as MONUC, says.
Responding to a harsh denunciation by the medical aid organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Representative Alan Doss said that MONUC has been supporting the Congolese army (FARDC) to meet the Government’s primary responsibility to protect its civilians against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).
The UN News Centre says the LRA has been terrorizing the Haut Uélé area of Orientale province in north-east DRC in recent months, leaving some 900 people dead and uprooting 130 000 others, according to rough estimates by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
“Médecins Sans Frontières describes scenes of horror that are all too familiar in the wake of the Lord’s Resistance Army in Haut-Uélé, but your organization’s Press Release of 4 February 2009 seriously misrepresents MONUC responsibilities and actions to protect civilians in the territory,” Doss said in a letter to Laurence Gaubert, MSF’s Head of Mission in the DRC.
He said that MONUC operations in the area have been limited to the town of Dungu to ensure logistical support to the FARDC – including aerial reconnaissance, transportation, rations, fuel and medical evacuations – and to defend the area’s only airstrip capable of handling heavy military and humanitarian shipments.
MONUC also maintains a quick reaction force in Dungu for special operations, he said, and had planned Operation Rudia in conjunction with the FARDC to help the Government contain the LRA and deter attacks on civilians.
Operation Rudia also provides protection for a humanitarian team in Dungu and, whenever possible, has provided assistance directly to civilians or through non-governmental organizations (NGOs), although it had never had a request from MSF on humanitarian grounds, he added.
MONUC recognises that it will never have the capacity to meet emergencies everywhere at all times, given its mandate and limited resources in a country the size of Western Europe, and so it is obliged to maintain “a fluid presence on the ground and adjust to shifting priorities,” Doss explained.
Reuters reports MSF last week Wednesday said they were shocked “by the extreme violence of the LRA” and could “not comprehend the inaction of the blue berets to protect” civilians from the Ugandan insurgents who often operate in the north-east of the DRC.
“The MONUC contingent has never intervened to protect people in towns under attack, even as the attacks multiplied,” MSF further charged. During one attack by Ugandan rebels “the blue berets remained holed up in their base”.
The MONUC mission is the largest UN force in the world with some 17 000 soldiers. But just a few are deployed in Haut-Uele district in the northeast. MONUC is meanwhile stretched by another rebellion in the eastern region of North Kivu.
UN forces frequently face accusations of failing to do all they could to protect civilians. Notable incidents were the UN`s failure to act in the face of Rwanda`s 1994 genocide and the 1995 massacre of up to 8000 Bosnian men and boys in Srebrenica.
Meanwhile, Doss also reports the world body is getting a cold shoulder in its search for more peacekeepers for the DRC. The UN Security Council has authorised a further 3000 but none have arrived.
“So far the response has been lukewarm,” Doss said. “I believe we’ve approached up to 65 countries, including European countries, and have not yet had the response that we would wish.”
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has launched a public appeal for countries offer men. Bangladesh has confirmed an offer of troops and Belgium an aircraft.