UN Officials Visit Eastern Congo After Suspected Rebel AttacksMalcolm Beith
United Nations officials visited eastern Democratic Republic of Congo to address the UN mission’s failure to contain rebel groups and instill security in the region.
More than 100 civilians have died in raids carried out by suspected members of the rebel Allied Democratic Forces since the beginning of October. Congolese civil society groups including the Civil Society of Beni have accused the UN mission, known as Monusco, of failing to secure the town of Beni, about 244 kilometers (152 miles) north of North Kivu’s provincial capital of Goma, and other nearby villages that have borne the brunt of the attacks.
“We’ve come to Beni to look at what’s happened recently and to see what Monusco should have done differently to prevent the massacres,” said Jacques Christophides, director of Africa Division II of the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, who led the delegation sent by the Security Council.
Congo, Africa’s biggest copper producer, has struggled for nearly two decades to defeat dozens of local and foreign militias in the east of the country. The region’s remote hills and forests have made it difficult for the army to hunt armed groups that take refuge there and often prey on residents. Eastern Congo is rich in tin ore, gold and coltan, which is used in smartphones and laptops.
“Monusco has more sophisticated instruments to provide peace than any peacekeeping mission in the world,” Christophides said after meeting Beni Mayor Jean-Edmond Nyonyi Bwanakawa today. “But clearly they are not enough. There are gaps between what we were providing and what we need to provide.”
After a series of suspected ADF attacks last month, protesters attacked the Monusco headquarters at Beni airport to demand better security. One protester was shot by a Congolese soldier trying to protect a UN convoy.
President Joseph Kabila visited Beni on Oct. 30 to appeal for calm and speak with civil society leaders. Government officials and members of civil society said the meetings went smoothly. Several hundred people attended a speech in which he defended Monusco and the Congolese army.
“We cannot be open to the possibility of negotiating with people like this,” Kabila said of the perpetrators of the attacks. “These are criminals. They belong in prison.”
Shortly after Kabila left, protesters tore down a statue of the president in the center of Beni. Someone scrawled “Kabila is dead” on the statue; it still lay in the street four days later.
A 6:30 pm curfew was imposed in the town after another 14 people were killed at the weekend. Protesters threw stones at the mayor’s office on Nov. 2 and the bodies of a soldier and an 87-year-old man were discovered in a field on the outskirts of the city.
Beni, a city known for wood exports to Uganda located in mineral-rich North Kivu, has a history of militia terror and rule. In 1999, a local militia took over the city, and various other armed groups —- including one deployed by then-President Laurent Kabila —- sought to retake control.
Joseph Kabila -– who took office 10 days after his father Laurent was assassinated in 2001 -– and the Congolese army, known as the FARDC, have received support from about 20,000 UN troops to combat rebel groups like the ADF. The UN has also deployed a 3,000-strong unit, the Force Intervention Brigade, to stage offensives with the army under its Security Council mandate. In late 2013, the FIB helped the FARDC defeat the M23 rebel group in Goma.
Prior to the attacks, about 150 members of the Tanzanian brigade of the FIB were stationed in Beni, Monusco regional public information officer Moussa Demba Diallo said. At the beginning of November, an additional 100 troops from the Malawi contingent were deployed in the city, as well as about 100 members of the Senegalese police corps, Demba Diallo said.
Monusco also has five manned surveillance aircraft, or drones, at its disposal, though four of them were recently grounded after one crashed in poor weather, said Charles Bambara, Monusco’s spokesman in the capital, Kinshasa. Monusco troops are currently patrolling the streets of Beni and surrounding villages armed with rocket-propelled grenades, as well as their standard semi-automatic weapons; members of the FARDC were also seen in Beni wielding rocket-propelled grenades.
Yesterday in Kinshasa, Monusco announced that 200 suspected members of the ADF have been arrested by Monusco, FARDC and Congolese police since the attacks began.
“They’re just reportedly ADF,” Demba Diallo said in an interview today. “We’re looking into it.”
Congolese and Ugandan officials have claimed that the ADF has links to al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab, a Somalia-based militant group; they also say the ADF is now less structured and less of a threat than in the past. Monusco force commander Lieutenant-General Carlos Alberto Santos Cruz has rejected any evidence of connections between the ADF and other Islamic militant organizations.
Christofides, the UN delegation chief, said Thursday that “even if we were to put the entire Monusco force in Beni, all 20,000 peacekeepers, it would not be enough to deal with the conflict.”
Monusco is the first UN mission to have a Security Council-mandated exit strategy. “One day, Monusco will leave,” Christofedes said. “Not soon, but a few years down the road.”
Christofedes called on civil society to work in partnership with Monusco, and to help find ways to “create a different society so this does not happen again.”