With a “humanitarian tragedy” unfolding in the war-torn eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), it is imperative that action be taken immediately to protect the population and bring an end to the fighting, the top United Nations peacekeeping official said today.
Escalating conflict between Government forces (FARDC) and a rebel group militia known as the National Congress in Defense of the People (CNDP) has uprooted an estimated 250,000 people since late August, mainly in North Kivu province, which borders Rwanda and Uganda.
Other armed groups, including the Mayi Mayi, have also been involved in deadly clashes, some of which have been along ethnic lines.
“The situation in the Congo highlights the dilemma, and limits, of peacekeepers caught in ongoing conflict,” Alan Le Roy, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, wrote in an Op-Ed in The Washington Times.
The UN mission in the DRC, known by its French acronym MONUC, is the Organization's largest, with 17,000 personnel.
“However, compared to the enormity of the tasks it is assigned and the vast expanse of the DRC – roughly the size of the United States east of the Mississippi and virtually without infrastructure – this number is actually rather small,” Mr. Le Roy said.
For example, in Kosovo, NATO deployed 40,000 highly-trained and well-equipped troops to an area 200 times smaller than the DRC, he added.
“Civilians have suffered from intense and often chaotic fighting, driven from their homes, caught in the crossfire and subjected to direct attacks and reprisals by armed groups and undisciplined elements of the national army,” the official said.
Over 90 per cent of the UN mission''s troops are deployed in the DRC's eastern provinces, and 10,000 blue helmets are trying to protect the 10 million-strong population, at a ratio of one peacekeeper for every 1,000 civilians.
“MONUC forces cannot serve as a substitute for the Congolese army to fight a war or impose peace,” Mr. Le Roy wrote, adding that UN peacekeepers are “not an expeditionary or counterinsurgency force.”
But in the face of such challenges, he said that the Organization's troops “continue to do their utmost, protecting thousands of civilians every day.”
The Under-Secretary-General underscored that the fighting will only end when a political settlement supported by all States in the region has been reached.
“With so much at stake, the international community simply cannot afford to let the Congo slide into the abyss,” he wrote. “The time to act is, and indeed must be, now.”
The UN envoy tasked with helping to resolve the conflict that has engulfed the east of the DRC is scheduled to launch a dialogue tomorrow in Nairobi between the DRC's Government and the CNDP.
The talks will be facilitated by Olusegun Obasanjo, the Secretary-General's Special Envoy on the Great Lakes Region and former Nigerian president, and Benjamin Mkapa, representing the African Union (AU) and the International Conference on the Great Lakes (ICGLR), who is also the former president of Tanzania.
The agreement to launch the discussion comes after the their recent talks with regional heads of State, the Congolese Government, the CNDP and other armed groups in which they appealed for dialogue and respect for the ceasefire to allow for humanitarian assistance.