Wednesday, November 05, 2008

North Kivu spirals out of control

As many of you may be aware, there is a burgeoning crisis in North Kivu, in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Rebel 'general' Laurent Nkunda's Rwandan backed forces have started fighting again. The DRC's central government refuses to meet with Nkunda. The Congolese national army is so indisciplined and poorly paid that many observers say they are as much a threat to stability as Nkunda's forces.

Standing by impotently is MONUC, the largest and most expensive UN 'peacekeeping' mission in the world. The UK Independent ran an Associated Press analysis claiming that the 'Congo conflict shows flaws in UN force.'
The quick unraveling of the world's largest UN peacekeeping effort has come as no surprise to the mission's critics, who complain the force was unprepared for its main task — protecting civilians from the war.

Growing numbers of civilians are furious at the UN's failure to keep them safe. Angry Congolese have pelted rocks at all four UN compounds in the provincial capital of Goma. One such attack on the disputed road north of the city critically wounded an Indian officer.

MONUC has 17,000 troops in the DRC, a country the size of Western Europe. But the main trouble spots are in North Kivu, a province only slightly smaller than the country of Sierra Leone.

Only 6,000 of MONUC's soldiers are in North Kivu, even though most of the rest of the DRC is relatively peaceful and stable.
By comparison, the eventually successful UN mission in Sierra Leone itself once had over 17,000 troops.

MONUC needs a new mandate and the resources to execute it. Its current mandate is to support the DRC national army, an 'army that doesn't exist,' according to one UN official. Much like the rebels, the army is accused of widespread human rights' abuses. And the army is the official arm of a government that refuses to talk with Nkunda.

In December 2007, the UN empowered peacekeepers to forcefully disarm Nkunda's militias but they don't have the resources to do that. Nkunda has almost twice as many men as MONUC and the UN forces are poorly equipped.

Additionally, international pressure must be put on Rwanda to stop backing Nkunda's destabilizing forces. Worse yet, Rwanda has been accused of being more overtly involved in the conflict.

Rwandan forces fired tank shells or other heavy artillery across the border at Congolese troops during fighting last week, the UN said recently.

Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation in North Kivu continues to spiral out of control for the Congolese, while aid workers helping them are subjected to many of the same dangers.

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