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POLITICS: U.N. Seeks Large Military Force to Restrain Congo

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Nov 20 2008 (IPS) - The 15-member Security Council decided Thursday to bolster the 17,000-strong U.N. Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC) with an additional 3,000 troops, strengthening further its claim as the largest single peacekeeping force deployed by the United Nations.

But peace activists and human rights organisations remain sceptical whether a larger peacekeeping force is the answer to the crisis in turmoil-stricken African nation.

“The issue here is not the military strength of a peacekeeping force needed in eastern Congo,” the Rev. Gabriel Odima, president of the U.S.-based Africa Centre for Peace & Democracy, told IPS.

“The more relevant issue is why the international community is not addressing the root causes of the conflict in the region,” he said.

Rev Odima said the international community should promote democracy, provide aid, eradicate poverty, and promote education and development in the region.

“This is not the time for the Western governments to shy away from the African crisis. We need to step in and bring real change and stability for the continent of Africa,” he added.

The resolution, adopted unanimously by the Security Council Thursday, was co-sponsored by the United States, Britain, France, Italy, Belgium, South Africa and Costa Rica.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who last week appealed for additional 3,000 troops, also provided the Security Council with a shopping list of military equipment urgently needed in DRC.

In a letter to the Security Council, Ban said that in order to enhance the operational mobility of MONUC, he needs additional air assets.

The list includes 18 utility helicopters, (along with 260 personnel, including crew and ground staff) and two C-130 Hercules aircraft (along with 50 personnel, including crew and ground staff).

These air assets are to be based in two major trouble spots: North and South Kivu.

Additionally, he wants rapid reaction force/special forces teams until the first phase of the disengagement plan is completed. One engineering company (175 personnel) is needed to support the proposed troop surge in DRC.

Ban is also seeking 200 military training instructors/advisers to support and enhance MONUC’s ongoing training programmes to the Armed Forces of DRC (FARDC).

These additional capacities, he said, will result in an increase of 2,785 to the MONUC current military strength and 300 to its police unit strength, bringing the additional total to a little over 3,000.

But Rev. Odima says there are no indications of Western nations providing either troops or equipment – as is the case with the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Darfur, Sudan, which is also urgently in need of additional troops and helicopters.

A U.N. official told IPS it is most likely that additional troops and military equipment for DRC may come from existing troop contributors, including India, Pakistan, South Africa and Uruguay.

While welcoming the 3,000 troops, Juliette Prodhan, head of Oxfam in DRC, agrees that reinforcements to the overstretched U.N. force “are a critical part of what is needed to ensure effective protection of civilians, improve overall security and humanitarian access, and create space for political dialogue.”

However, she points out “this action by the Security Council does nothing to address the crisis immediately on the ground and should not detract from the urgent need to act more quickly.”

Prodhan said the people of eastern Congo don’t have the luxury of the three- to four-month time lag it would normally take to deploy the additional troops.

“Lives are at risk and thousands continue to suffer due to the intense fighting and rampant insecurity,” she said.

She said “a rapid injection of European troops, with a clear mandate to deter further fighting and help to protect civilians, until additional U.N. peacekeeping troops arrive, could make a real difference to millions of Congolese and show the world that Europe is serious about living up to its ‘responsibility to protect'”.

Michelle Brown, U.N. representative of the Washington-based Refugees International, said that governments need to commit troops immediately.

“There are a finite number of peacekeepers in the world, and we can’t pull 3,000 additional troops out of thin air,” she noted.

In a statement released Thursday, Refugee International’s peacekeeping advocate in eastern Congo, Erin Weir, said the 27-member European Union is capable of providing the type of short-term force needed right now,

“But EU leaders are dragging their feet,” she added.

Rev Odima said the current Western policies toward the Great Lakes Region of Africa- including Burundi, Rwanda, DRC, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania – have several flaws.

“The basic flaw is that the Western governments, having allowed the conditions of genocide to develop and to mature, now want to compound it by ignoring the fact that President [Yoweri] Museveni of Uganda and President [Paul] Kagame of Rwanda have and continue to fuel the conflict in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo,” he said.

Having given their blessing to the so called “new breed of leaders,” the West will now find it extremely difficult or even impossible to send a peacekeeping force to eastern Congo.

It is no longer a secret that the regime in Kampala and Kigali has been involved in horrendous atrocities, including massacres in their own countries and eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, he added.

Ban said his request for additional troops was also based on the recommendations and wishes of many African leaders whom he met in Nairobi last month. The Nairobi meeting was aimed at resolving the conflict in DRC.

Ban said MONUC “has been working very hard to protect peace and stability and to protect the civilians there. But MONUC is “overstretched”.

“Therefore, we urgently need some additional resources. I am still concerned that even with the strong joint statement by the African leaders, supported by the United Nations, sporadic fighting is still taking place, and there are serious human consequences.”

“We have 250,000 displaced persons. At least 100,000 people have been cut off from basic necessities. This is a very serious and dire situation. I am mobilising all necessary U.N. humanitarian agencies in close partnership with international partners to provide humanitarian assistance,” Ban said.

After the Nairobi meeting, he convened brief meetings with Western countries – Britain, the U.S., the Netherlands, Canada, as well as Japan and representatives of the African Union. The European Union was represented by France.

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