At the same time, the 14,000-strong UN military force in the Democratic Republic of Congo has increased its open war-fighting role. On March 1 UN troops killed more than 50 people in an assault on an alleged rebel camp in Congos northeastern Ituri region.
The UN mission in Congo, led by Swing, a U.S. diplomat, is the largest military intervention under UN cover in the world. Its top personnel includes officers from the governments of New Zealand, France, the Netherlands, Iran, and Nigeria. The force commander, Maj. Gen. Samaila Iliya, is a Nigerian officer trained in France and the United States.
Sexual abuse by UN troops
According to UN Security Council Resolution 1565 passed last October, one of the stated missions of the UN forces in Congo is to assist in the promotion and protection of human rights, with particular attention to women, children and vulnerable persons. However, the London Times reported that Congolese defense minister Jean Pierre Ondekane said the UN soldiers will be remembered in his country primarily for running after little girls.
Over the past year the United Nations has investigated 150 allegations against some 50 soldiers of sexual abuse of Congolese women and girls, including gang rape, Reuters reported. Some of the victims, as young as 12 or 13 years old, were bribed with offers of eggs, milk, or a few dollars.
The Moroccan government said it arrested six soldiers from its contingent in Congo who were accused of sexual exploitation of underage girls. Two of the contingents officers were also dismissed, according to the report.
Last year, Congolese police arrested a senior UN official, Didier Bourguet, in a sting operation in which he solicited sex from a 12-year-old girl, according to press reports. Police say they found on Bourguets computer dozens of videos and photos of him having sex with children.
Similar videos were sent by two Russian pilots with the UN mission to Russia. The pilots were reportedly tipped off that they were under investigation and left the country. A Canadian and a Ukrainian soldier with the UN mission also left the country to avoid being caught up in the scandal, the London Times reported.
In another case a 14-year-old girl told UN investigators that she had sex with UN troops in exchange for two eggs. She said her family was starving. Another said she had sex with UN soldiers for $2, some bread, and chocolate.
UN officials have said that the investigation shows that sex abuse by its peacekeeping troops and officials appears to exist in each of its 16 missions around the world. In addition to Congo, they include Burundi, Liberia, Ivory Coast, and Haiti. In Congo, one of the members of the UN investigative arm that is assigned to look into the sexual abuse allegations was forced to resign after being accused of consorting with a prostitute, the Times reported. We think this will look worse before it begins to look better, Jane Holl Lute, assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping, told reporters. We are prepared for that.
Robust UN action kills 50
Col. Dominique Demange, spokesman for UN forces in Congo, said more than 50 alleged members of a Congolese militia group were killed in a March 1 firefight with UN forces in Congos northeastern Ituri region. The UN troops employed helicopters and armored personnel carriers in the battle.
Congolese officials in the area said that as many as 25 civilians were killed in the attack, including three children and several women who were burned to death after rounds from helicopter gunships set fire to their huts, according to the March 3 London Telegraph. Colonel Demange denied there were any civilians killed. Elaine Nabaa, a UN spokeswoman in Ituri, said, What we are sure of is that the militiamen were using civilians as human shields, the Telegraph reported.
Subsequently UN officials acknowledged its forces had killed women in the fighting, but said they were members of the militia group, Reuters reported.
The attack was aimed at the camp of the militia associated with the Nationalist Integrationist Front (FNI). It took place five days after nine UN troops from Bangladesh were killed in an ambush in the same area. UN and Congolese government officials suspect that the FNI militia was involved in the ambush. Several FNI leaders were arrested in Kinshasa, the capital, according to a UN news agency report.
UN officials have described the action as part of a more robust use of firepower by its troops.
The Security Council reaffirms its full support for MONUC and urges MONUC to continue to fulfill its mandate with determination, said Security Council president Ronaldo Mota Sardenberg, of Brazil. MONUC is the French acronym for the UN mission in Congo.
Last October the Security Council authorized an increase in the number of soldiers in the MONUC mission from 10,000 to up to 16,750. Its troop strength is currently at 13,950. It also doubled the number of attack helicopters for the force, some of which are equipped with night vision capabilities, and set up two rapid reaction battalions with a division headquarters in Ituri.
UN envoy Swing said his troops now have the firepower and flexibility to engage in armed actions. I think you will see us moving in this direction more and more, he said.
Conflict over land, mineral wealth
FNI is one of several militia groups in the Ituri region where the government and opposition groups have fostered fratricidal fighting between ethnic Lendu and Hema. An estimated 50,000 people have been killed in fighting between the two groups since 1999, according to Reuters. This year alone the fighting in Ituri forced 70,000 people to flee their homes.
While the big-business media often portrays the ongoing civil war as the result of age-old ethnic hatreds, the underlying cause of the conflict has been the fight between government forces and their opponents over land and mineral wealththe same fundamental reason that the Belgian, French, U.S., and other imperialist powers have repeatedly intervened in Congo over the years.
In 1997 the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire, led by Laurent Kabila and supported by the Rwandan government, overthrew the crumbling pro-imperialist regime of Mobutu Sese Seko. The Alliance rapidly split in the ensuing factional struggle for control of Congos vast mineral wealth.
In August 1998 Kabila ordered the mostly Tutsi Rwandan military forces who had helped to overthrow Mobutu to leave the country. This action precipitated a military rebellion against the regime in Kinshasa.
The rebels, a fractured assortment of groupings calling themselves the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD), are based among the Lendu and Rwandan Tutsi forces that had helped Kabila gain power. The governments of neighboring Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundiwho had relied on these military forces to defend their borders from opposition groups launching incursions against them from eastern Congothrew their support behind the anti-Kabila forces.
By late 1998 the RCD controlled much of the eastern provinces of Congo. It was on the verge of taking the Congolese capital but was turned back after troops from Angola, Zimbabwe, and Namibia intervened in support of Kabilas government. Kabila was killed by one of his bodyguards in January 2001. His son Joseph Kabila is now president.
In July 1999 the governments involved in the civil war signed a UN-brokered cease-fire and agreed to withdraw all foreign troops from the country. The military intervention under the UN banner began that same year. In July 2003 a transitional government headed by Kabila was set up in which the RCD and the Congolese Liberation Movement, another opposition group, shared top ministerial posts.
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