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DR Congo: UN peacekeepers intervene to halt dissident troops’ advance on eastern city

DR Congo: UN peacekeepers intervene to halt dissident troops’ advance on eastern city

United Nations peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), backed by attack helicopters, intervened on the side of the army today to stall the advance of dissident troops on the city of Goma in the east of the vast country, which is emerging from years of civil war and factional fighting.

The UN mission in the DR Congo (MONUC) has reinforced its troops in the region and called for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire. It said a high-level delegation, including the Interior Minister and Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Deputy Special Representative were arriving in Goma today to put the ceasefire in place.

The UN “is ready to help the RDC Government in its efforts to resolve peacefully and politically these confrontations and their causes,” MONUC said, noting that they stemmed from the dissidents’ anxiety over their future and security in a country in full transition.

“MONUC will take all necessary measures to ensure the protection of civilians against any attack. For this purpose MOCUC has reinforced its security capabilities in Nord-Kivu [of which Goma is the capital] to interdict any movement towards Goma and prevent any movement of fighting towards the city,” it added, stressing that the peacekeeping operation is mandated to open fire to protect civilians in danger.

The delegation to Goma includes UN humanitarian experts to assess the needs of several thousand people displaced by the fighting, which broke out Saturday when soldiers led by dissident General Laurent Nkunda attacked the army’s 11th Brigade in the town of Sake. Heavy fighting ensued with small arms, machine guns and rocket propelled grenades, forcing government soldiers to retreat and abandon their position.

UN peacekeepers, who had conducted only aerial reconnaissance, did not intervene until Sunday when they were fired on by dissidents. They returned fire with warning shots from ground forces and helicopters. Today, backed by attack helicopters, they engaged the dissidents near Sake and stalled their advance towards Goma, MONUC said.

The peacekeepers suffered no casualties. There are no indications as to casualties among the dissidents, the mission said. The 11th Brigade, supported by UN forces, has now regained control of high-ground around Sake but intermittent fighting continues, it added.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is scheduled to rule today on the election results appeal by Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba, forecast by preliminary figures to have lost to incumbent President Joseph Kabila.

The elections, the largest and most complex polls that the UN has ever helped to organize, were aimed at cementing the impoverished country’s transition to stability after a brutal six-year civil war, which cost 4 million lives through fighting and attendant hunger and disease. Factional fighting has remained a problem since the end of the war, especially in the east.

Last Tuesday, UN peacekeepers shot into the air today to disperse Bemba supporters in Kinshasa, the capital, after demonstrators opened fire and set the Supreme Court and a police vehicle ablaze.