UN combat operations against the FNI militia has killed at least fifty of the gunmen. The FNI denies it had anything to do with the deaths of nine Bangladeshi UN peacekeepers, but no one besides the FNI believes that. FNI officials have been arrested in other parts of Congo, and the UN and the government seems determined to crush the FNI, if only to discourage further attacks on peacekeepers.
Following the February 25 murders of nine Bangladeshi UN peacekeepers, the Congo reported that UN and NGO aid organizations have suspended operations in the Congo's northeastern Ituri region. One UN agency has been assisting over 50,000 refugees in the vicinity of the towns of Kakwa, Tche and Gina. UN sources cited the "poor security situation" for the suspension of aid operations. The security situation has been going from bad to worse, with a decline that began in December 2004. The Congo government now blames rogue militias operating in Ituri for the murder of the Bangladeshi soldiers. On February 28 the government said that it had arrested Floribert Ndjabu, the commander of the Nationalist and Integrationist Front (FNI). The FNI is one of a half-dozen tribal defense groups or militias in the area where the Bangladeshi troops were slain. MONUC issued an official statement on the murders. MONUC said the peacekeepers were on a security mission around the refugee camp at Kafe (sometimes designated as the IDP camp, Kafe, or internally displaced persons camp). The Bangladeshi UN contingent had assigned 20 troops to the task as well as a UN civilian interpreter. The unit was ambushed five kilometers west of Kafe. The UN commander (of what is now called the Ituri Brigade) responded by sending two additional infantry platoons (by helicopter) and two Mi-25 attack helicopters. The reinforcements engaged the militias in a firefight while dead and wounded were evacuated. MONUC said that the arrest of 30 militiamen on February 24 may have precipitated the incident. The ambush was characterized as a "premeditated" attack. On February 28 the government said that it would send an additional brigade (3,000 troops) to Ituri to help police the troubled region. The UN's Ituri Brigade deploys approximately 4,500 troops and support personnel. In addition to the Bangladeshis, the unit is manned by troop contingents from Morocco, Pakistan, and Nepal. The security situation in North Kivu province is also terrible. On February 28 the European Union suspended developmental aid projects in North Kivu due to what a UN press release described as "massive looting of supplies." The UN said "systematic looting" occurred between December 20, 2004 and the end of January. Looters took material intended for schools and hospitals. Neither the government or MONUC are able to provide basic security for these aid programs. The decision to pullback is a wise one. The Congo and UN are left with several tough decisions. If the government and UN are serious about improving the security situation, the leaders of the rogue militias and tribal organizations committing these crimes will have to be arrested. Disbanding these organizations is an even tougher proposition. The Congo is flush with light automatic weapons and a "disbanded militia" can easily reorganize. The best policy is to arrest incorrigible militia leaders and convince the remaining leaders to cooperate with government and UN authorities. -- Austin Bay