Specialized United Nations police units from Bangladesh and India were instrumental in saving civilian lives amidst heavy fighting during last week’s violence in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
The specialized armoured police units – known as Formed Police Units (FPUs) – from Bangladesh and India “operated at considerable risk to extricate people who had been pinned down by gunfire who were actually inside homes where mortar rounds and other munitions were being deployed,” said UN Police (UNPOL) Adviser Mark Kroeker told the UN News Service.
The UN mission in the DRC, known as MONUC, estimates that hundreds were killed and many more wounded in the violence which broke out on 22 March between Government forces and guards of former Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba, who was defeated last year by current President Joseph Kabila in the run-off round of landmark presidential elections.
The FPUs rescued not only “the high-level people such as ambassadors, but also just ordinary people who are trapped and who needed to be evacuated from the line of fire,” Mr. Kroeker added, voicing his gratitude to the police officers, none of whom have been reported injured. “They were in what turned out to be almost a military environment, but they operated as a rescue unit helping people.”
FPUs were first used as part of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), but their success there and in other operations has led to calls for increasing deployment, and to date, there are 35 units dispersed among six missions worldwide.
Each of these units, comprising over 100 police officers from a single country, is highly mobile and tactically ready to respond to various situations, including crowd control, riots or natural disasters, in which local agencies are overwhelmed or lack capacity due to conflict.
FPUs, known for their competence and efficiency, have demonstrated “compassion and caring” not only last week in the DRC, but in other instances as well, Mr. Kroeker said.
For example, a Jordanian FPU with UNMIL in Liberia recently visited an orphanage housing approximately 350 children who lost their parents in the civil war that ravaged the country, bringing with them food from their own storage to feed the orphans. An Indian FPU stationed in Kisangani in the DRC is aiding in the re-equipment of schools and also assisting community members with a range of tasks, including helping people start their cars.
Mr. Kroeker noted that such efforts help to hasten communities’ acceptance of the UNPOL officers and also show that “they’re more than just police officers, but police officers who care” with a “beating humanitarian heart under that big façade of the tough cop.”