Backed by air power in a major new operation code-named "Thunder Storm," United Nations peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) today launched their third offensive in just over two weeks to oust Rwandan Hutu militia who daily harass local communities, burning a rebel base camp.
The operation, involving 1,200 Pakistani quick reaction and Guatemalan special forces, with Indian air support, alongside 200 Congolese army troops, followed a deadline delivered days ago to the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) militia at their brigade headquarters in Miranda, the UN Organization Mission in the DRC (MONUC) said.
The blue helmets fanned out over a 70 by 30-kilometre area in the Kabare and Walungu territories of south Kivu province, with 100 of them entering Miranda village, which they found empty. The FDLR had moved into the forests where there is no civilian population, west of Kabare, and outside the territory, MONUC said.
The UN troops searched the abandoned camp, assured no people or ammunition was left and set fire to between 120 and 150 huts. This zone is now a MONUC-controlled area and the mission will continue to monitor FDLR activities. Rwandan Hutu rebels have been active in the jungles of the eastern DRC since Rwanda's 1994 genocide, in which they killed an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
"These operations have only just begun and MONUC anticipates the definitive deployment of its units in several areas of the province judged sensitive," the mission said. "MONUC's message is clear: the FDLR must let their troops join in the voluntary disarmament process in accordance with the pledges they signed in Rome at the end of March."
The FDLR leadership then pledged to lay down its weapons and return to Rwanda. MONUC designated six assembly points for the estimated 13,000 to 15,000 Rwandan militiamen expected to want to take part in Rwanda's programme of disarmament, demobilization, repatriation, re-settlement and re-integration (DDRRR).
MONUC launched its first in the series of raids, "Operation Falcon Sweep," on 4 July, and the second, "Iron Fist," the next day. The mission said the operations had three positive results: showing foreign fighters that UN peacekeepers can oust them from their most remote sanctuaries, exposing for all to see the FDLR/Rastas' total disorganization following MONUC operations, and uncovering FDLR camps.
Set up by Security Council mandate in 1999, MONUC has a current troop strength of over 15,000