The United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is helping the country’s armed forces plan a counter-offensive after dissident troops loyal to renegade General Laurent Nkunda recaptured a key town in the troubled North Kivu province.
The mission, known by its French acronym MONUC, issued a press statement today saying it has also immediately begun dispatching its own troops to the combat zones to boost the effectiveness of the national armed forces (FARDC). More than 4,500 blue helmets are deployed in the two Kivu provinces.
Troops loyal to Gen. Nkunda today retook the higher areas of Mushake, a hillside town about 40 kilometres northwest of the provincial capital of Goma, which had previously been held by Government forces. Residents had fled the town because of the threat posed by the Nkunda troops.
MONUC’s statement said the FARDC had resumed their fight against the Nkunda forces in several other places in North Kivu, including Mweso and Kibati, and had recorded “significant advances.”
The statement stressed that protecting the civil population in North Kivu would be a priority of the joint counter-offensive, and it added that the mission would continue to encourage dissident troops to participate in the “brassage” process, or disarmament, demobilization and reintegration.
In a separate statement, the head of MONUC and the Secretary-General’s Special Representative to the DRC, William Lacy Swing said that despite “the temporary reversal” of the Congolese armed forces in Mushake, UN blue helmets are still holding on to the town of Saké and would continue to defend both that town and Goma.
Mr. Swing said it was important the people of North Kivu remain calm and “do not pay attention to rumours,” reiterating the continuing support of MONUC and the international community.
MONUC and UN relief agencies have warned repeatedly in recent months of the impact that the renewed fighting is having on locals in North Kivu and nearby areas, where the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) has swelled substantially this year.
Some 405,000 Congolese have been forced from their homes in the province in the past 12 months, including 170,000 since August. In total, there are some 800,000 IDPs in the province, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
The peacekeeping operation has a robust mandate from the Security Council which invoked Chapter VII of the UN Charter, allowing for the use of force. MONUC said it stands “ready to respond favourably to request for fire-support that could be expressed, as a last resort, by the FARDC.”