Congo: Peacekeeping Becomes War

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Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire)

May 22, 2013: In early May, UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region (central Africa) Mary Robinson acknowledged that the UN’s Intervention Brigade could cause problems for future UN humanitarian aid operations in Africa. The brigade has a mandate to conduct “targeted offensive operations” which is diplo-speak for offensive combat operations. The brigade is the first UN peacekeeping operation to be given an explicit offensive mandate. Critics of the Intervention Brigade concept have warned that it is a mistake for the UN to field an offensive force. The critics argue that it sets a terrible precedent. In a future humanitarian crisis, armed groups may forcibly oppose basic humanitarian aid operations like refugee relief in a combat zone because they believe the humanitarian operation will inevitably lead to the deployment of a combat brigade which will attack them. Some Intervention Brigade supporters are concerned that the nations supplying the troops for the brigade could suffer attacks on their citizens who are living or working in the Congo or nearby countries.

Terror attacks on nations manning the brigade may seem far-fetched but they cannot be completely discounted. The model here is Uganda, which has troops serving in the UN and African Union’s AMISOM Somali peacekeeping operation. Uganda has suffered several terror attacks which have been tied to Somali Islamist extremists who oppose AMISOM. Intervention Brigade advocates portray the brigade as the military field force component of the UN’s new Framework security and development agreement. The Framework is UN shorthand for the Peace, Security, and Cooperation Framework for Eastern Democratic Republic Of the Congo and the Region (i.e. central African and Great Lakes region). Brigade advocates point out that there are at least 25 active, armed rebel militias in the eastern Congo. The militias seed violent chaos, making it all but impossible to conduct humanitarian relief operations, much less establish and run the long-term economic, training, and political stability operations the region needs. Brigade advocates contend the offensive mandate is an attempt to set conditions for sustainable economic and political development.  (Austin Bay)

May 20, 2013: M23 rebels attacked a Congolese Army (FARDC) position ten kilometers north of Goma (capital of North Kivu province). This was the first armed battle between M23 fighters and the Congolese Army since late 2012. M23 acknowledged that a firefight occurred in the area but said that its fighters were attacked by Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) militiamen. After the M23 fighters drove off the FDLR attack, Congolese Army artillery began shelling their position and M23 accused the government of over-reacting.

May 16, 2013: South Africa reaffirmed its commitment to support the UN’s intervention brigade in Congo. However, South African defense officials said that many senior South African military officers believe the South African military is currently over-committed. South Africa is involved in several peacekeeping efforts in Africa. The new intervention brigade mission will require shifting scarce resources from other missions. South Africa’s participation in the intervention brigade is regarded as critical by the UN.

May 15, 2013: Armed Mai-Mai militiamen attacked a Congolese Army camp and recruitment center outside the town of Beni (North Kivu province). The attack kicked off a two-hour long firefight between the gunmen and Congolese Army soldiers. 23 gunmen were killed, three soldiers and five army recruits.

May 14, 2013: The government acknowledged that former M23 rebel fighters have been allowed to join the Congolese Army through the army’s reintegration program. North Kivu provincial officials claim that over 500 former rebels (from various militias) have joined Congolese Army units since late 2012. The officials have complained to the national government that the reintegration program creates security risks for Congolese civilians. The North Kivu officials are particularly worried about M23 rebel fighters who have rejoined the Congolese Army. The most prominent former M23 fighter to be reintegrated is Colonel Nzala Ngomo, who at the time was commanding a Congolese Army battalion and defected to M23 in November 2012. As of May 1, he is now fully reinstated as an officer in the Congolese Army. The North Kivu officials see the unrestricted reintegration of M23 fighters as rebel infiltration

May 11, 2013: A hundred Tanzanian troops committed to the UN’s new intervention brigade have deployed in the eastern Congo. The troops are the lead element in a 1,280 soldier Tanzanian contingent that will serve with the brigade. The core of the Tanzanian contingent will be an 850 man infantry battalion. The brigade will eventually deploy 3,069 international troops. Malawi and South Africa are also providing contingents.

May 8, 2013: The UN condemned the rogue militia attack on a UN Organization and Stabilization Mission (MONU.S.CO) convoy in South Kivu province which killed a Pakistani peacekeeper. The UN called the attack a war crime. A preliminary report claimed that the militia was trying to take hostages.

May 7, 2013: A rogue militia ambushed a UN convoy on the road between the towns of Walungu and Bukavu (South Kivu province). One Pakistani soldier serving with the MONU.S.CO peacekeeping force was killed in the attack.

May 2, 2013: M23 rebel fighters declared that they will not begin a new round of peace negotiations unless the government agrees to a ceasefire. M23 recently claimed that the Congolese Army is working with Rwandan Hutu rebels in the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) militia. Now M23 reports that an FDLR unit is advancing toward an important M23 position, and it appears that the FDLR move is coordinated with Congolese Army movements.

May 1, 2013: A senior UN diplomat acknowledged that deploying the new Intervention Brigade to conduct UN-ordered offensive operations against rebel militias could hinder future UN humanitarian operations in Congo and central Africa. The official said that she hoped the brigade’s deployment would serve as a deterrent and that military operations would be limited.

April 30. 2013: M23 rebels declared that they are ready to fight the new UN Intervention Brigade when it deploys in the eastern Congo. M23 officers had previously threatened Tanzanian and South African leaders that they and their men will fight the brigade. Tanzania and South Africa are both providing troops

April 25, 2013: The U.S. State Department warned American citizens traveling in the eastern Congo that armed militias, armed bandits, and rogue units in the Congolese Army are serious security threats. 

April 24, 2013: Civilians living north of Goma have refused to comply with demands by M23 rebels that they participate in a protest demonstration against the UN decision to deploy an intervention brigade for offensive operations in the eastern Congo. A demonstration had been planned for April 15th in the town of Kibumba (north of Goma). According to local residents, M23 leaders had to call off the protest since they refused to participate.

 

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