Africa, Headlines, Human Rights


Stephanie Kale

KIGALI, Nov 19 2008 (IPS) - Olusegun Obasanjo, former president of Nigeria and newly-appointed U.N. envoy in the Great Lakes Region, has visited both Congolese president Joseph Kabila and CNDP rebel leader General Laurent Nkunda, attempting to chisel the outlines of a new peace in the region.

U.N. peacekeepers are facing problems protecting a civilian population when war resumes. Credit:  Josh Kron/IPS

U.N. peacekeepers are facing problems protecting a civilian population when war resumes. Credit: Josh Kron/IPS

Only hours after diplomats graciously hosted one another, fresh fighting between rebel and government forces erupted in Riwindi, a town 125 kilometres north of Goma, while peacekeepers in the area from UN mission in Congo, MONUC, retreated into their compound.

"We couldn't go out or else we would get caught in the crossfire," said Jean Paul Dietrich, the military spokesman for MONUC.

Many think that getting caught in the crossfire is MONUC's duty, but although its mandate states that troops are to protect civilians, it also says they should not engage in fighting.

The familiar tension between MONUC's mandate and its inability to use force against either rebel groups or government soldiers – who have been known to loot, pillage and rape in villages they retreat from – leads many Congolese civilians to criticize the effectiveness of MONUC.

Kamanzi Bigaragara is a refugee at Kibati, a camp 15 kilometres north of Goma.

"Since we are here, MONUC hasn't been here to pay us a visit. CNDP can come to fight the FARDC soldiers here and kill us any time… MONUC doesn't protect us at all."

Jean Paul Dietrich, a military spokesman for MONUC said peacekeepers' hands are basically tied behind their backs.

"Peacekeeping is not an easy business. Peacekeepers are there where no one else wants to go," said Dietrich. "But we cannot always do what people think we can in terms of protection."

Leila Zerrougui, Deputy Special U.N. Representative to the DRC agrees, saying that usually peacekeeping follows the resolution of a conflict.

"Civilians see cars from MONUC, they see police, they see the army, but they are not seeing the difference, and that's because we are in a situation of conflict."

MONUC is the largest peacekeeping force in the world, with 17,000 troops stationed across the country. It was given its mandate by the Security Council in 2000 to monitor the post-civil war peace process in Congo, and it currently has an operating budget of almost $1.2 million.

Given these statistics, many Congolese can't understand why they are not better protected, but Dietrich says they often forget that MONUC is not the only actor in this conflict.

"The governmental structures are sometimes weak and they are frustrated we can't do more about this," he said. "But it also must be remembered that Congo is the size of Western Europe without proper roads, and we also have many other projects outside of North Kivu."

On a day-to-day level, Dietrich says that the 6,000 troops stationed in North Kivu province are often frustrated because all sides are not committed to the peace process.

"The governmental forces go ahead with their own initiatives, and the CNDP does not respect the ceasefire. In the field you have to go and put yourself in between them to mediate. Sometimes they don't listen," said Dietrich. "For this to work, we absolutely need commitment from all sides."

He also said that there are new security threats in the past few weeks between rebel and government forces, and that it has become more difficult to work.

"After so many clashes and so many declared ceasefires, there is some kind of confusion among MONUC, what our mandate should be and what will be the next steps to be taken," said Dietrich.

That mandate is up for renewal at the end of 2008, when the future of the mission will be decided by the Security Council.

Alan Doss, head of the MONUC mission, has requested the Security Council send 3,100 more troops.

Deputy Special Representative Zerrougui is in Goma to evaluate what is needed in the new mandate. She said MONUC's success may not just be about more troops.

"It's not the number of soldiers. It's which sort of force we deploy, how forces can be easily deployed – quickly and at less cost. "

Zerrougui said that because there are no proper roads in Congo, quick deployment near impossible.

She also said MONUC needs a clearer mandate.

"The Security Council has to know that we are facing a new situation on the ground. We need clarification because we are supporting an army that is sometimes looting and shooting the population… When they [the military] are confronted with such a situation, what they are to do."

MONUC's role might get more complicated given the possible involvement of regional troops like Angola or others from the South African Development Community.

"If we are here, we cannot afford to have other troops operating on the same area without leadership," said Zerrougui.

Above and beyond patrolling, MONUC is involved with training local military and police. By 2009, they will have trained 30,000 government soldiers and 28 battalions in a programmme of security sector reforms.

Earlier this year, MONUC was planning on reducing their troops and were getting ready to focus on rule of law, human rights and other structural reforms.

But since fighting broke out against in August, these plans have changed.

"For 2008, MONUC was asked to bring stability, to support the governmental forces through training sessions – which we did – but unfortunately we did not succeed when it comes to stability in the Kivus," said Dietrich.

He adds, "I think we are doing what we can do with our means, and we should not forget that we protecting tens of thousands of refugees in camps [in North Kivu]."

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