Congo: March 10, 2005

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: The UN announced that it will investigate the counter-militia operation launched on March 1 by Pakistani and South African peacekeepers in the Congo's Ituri province. The UN said the investigation was routine, though press sources report that villagers in the area where the combat action occurred said that peacekeepers also killed civilians. UN commanders denied this accusation. The UN commanders did say the militiamen tried to use hostages as "shields" but UN soldiers held fire until they could initiate combat without civilian losses. The counter-militia operation (which has all the markings of a carefully planned counter-bandit operation) was conducted in response to a rogue militia's ambush of Bangladeshi peacekeepers on February 25 that left 9 Bangaldeshis dead. The Pakistanis and South Africans estimated they killed around 60 militiamen in the operation which took place near the Congo town of Loga. The UN (MONUC) force had two wounded. The Pakistanis are part of the UN's "Ituri Brigade" and the South African contingent had been moved into the area to act as a rapid response force. The rogue militia belongs to the Nationalist Integrationist Front (FNI).

UN peacekeepers (presumably in the Ituri Brigade) reported that the Pakistani and South African troops had "precise intelligence." March 1 was a market day in Lago and a UN source said on market days "the militia gather taxes" (translation: rob or take protection money from the locals).

The situation in the Congo appears to be getting worse-- if that sound possible. The civilian death rate in the region among refugees seems to be running at 1,000 a day in the area. Most of these people die from malnutrition and various diseases. Sexual abuse of women and girls continues in rebel controlled areas-- if you thought UN peacekeepers were bad, the militiamen are worse. There are also new reports of militias "recruiting" child soldiers. The possibility of any solution is dim, given the complex interrelationships of social unrest, criminal gangs, traditional tribal conflicts, and the presence of defeated Rwandan Hutu rebels. The increasing aggressiveness of the UN peacekeeping forces may suggest that Congo -- or at least the war -- is about to (and we quote) "fall into UN receivership." 

This is a UN Charter Chapter 7 operation, which empowers the peacekeepers to act aggressively (the only prior Chapter 7 ops have been Korea, Congo 1960, Iraq '90-'91, and Somalia), but from 1999 until recently the chief UN official overseeing the operation has been reluctant to act decisively. That seems to have changed as of March 1. 

MONUC is the world's largest on-going peacekeeping operation. UN security strength --currently around 13,206 troops, 569 military observers, and 175 civilian police--is scheduled to rise to 17,000 troops and right at 500 civilian police officers. 

Counting the 9 Bangladeshis killed February 25, the current UN death toll in the Congo MONUC operation (KIA or died of wounds) is 45. The breakdown is as follows: 34 military troops, eight military observers, two international civilian UN staffers and one local civilian hired by the UN.


 

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