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In Congo, Civilians Bear the Brunt as UN Attacks NGOs and Whistleblowing General

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, February 25 -- In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it is said that Rwandan troops are leaving today, to be followed by the end of the week by Ugandan forces involved in the ill-fated hunt for Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army that resulted in LRA killings of 900 civilians. But questions have arisen whether all of the Rwandans are leaving, and if the Ugandans will leave at all.  

   DRC President Joseph Kabila is trying to remove the head of the National Assembly, who has raised questions about Kabila's invitation of foreign armies onto Congolese soil. Local leaders in Dungu in north Congo, where the LRA is still on the loose, are demanding that either the Ugandans or Congo's ragtag army stay and finish off the LRA, which they liken to a wounded lion.

  Despite the claim that the UN Mission in the Congo, MONUC, is most focused on protecting civilians, they did almost nothing when the LRA began a wave of killing on Christmas of last year. Tuesday at UN Headquarters, Human Rights Watch's Congo expert Anneke Van Woudenberg told the Press that MONUC wasn't even informed of the assault on the LRA until hours before it took place.

  Inner City Press asked Ms. Van Woudenberg for HRW's view on whether the United States, as a Permanent Five member of the Security Council which provided funding and planning to the Ugandan army, had a duty to give more advance warning to MONUC, so that civilians could be protected.  Ms. Van Woudenberg responded that it was perhaps understandable that only a few people not involved in the planning would be told before the action started. But can it be that the U.S. doesn't trust the head of MONUC, Alan Doss?

   Doss in recent weeks has adopted a combative approach, not to warlords but to the press and NGOs. His new communications chief, Kevin Kennedy, issued a stinging rebuke of a Medecins Sans Frontieres report about the north Congo killings. While the head of the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations Alain Le Roy upon his return from Afghanistan urged a more detailed response, the resulting letter to MSF was given little publicity.

 On February 23, Inner City Press asked MSF's Sophie Delaunay if the group has any second-thoughts about the report, after the UN called it "unfounded." No, she said, the report is what happened in norther Congo, it was "outrageous" and it had to be said. MONUC is known to dispute even the titles of NGOs' reports on the Congo.  MONUC will let no insult stand, it seems.

  This applies equally to the damning report by Spanish General Diaz, who left MONUC after he found a less than friendly reception by Alan Doss. Inner City Press has asked for the UN's comments on Diaz's end of mission critique, and the response has been to vilify Diaz as a quitter, even as having had a nervous breakdown.  But Inner City Press has heard that Doss never wanted Diaz, preferring instead an African general. MONUC didn't even pick Diaz up from the airport when he arrived. Spain's mission in Kinshasa had to do it, at the eleventh hour. It was hardly an auspicious beginning. Peacekeeping, indeed.

UN's Alan Doss in Congo, Diaz report and letter to MSF not shown

  While the UN's top humanitarian John Holmes, when Inner City Press asked him about HRW's report this month of 100 killings of civilians by the fleeing FDLR military said "I hope it's not true," Ms. Van Woudenberg said that it's that the UN couldn't go out and do their own count for two weeks. She expects that Holmes will now confirm the report. We'll see -- Holmes will return to New York on Friday, from Colombia and a controversial government-controlled trip to Sri Lanka.

   When the International Criminal Court screened its Prosecutor's opening statements again Thomas Lubanga in his old stomping grounds in Bunia, Ms. Van Woudenberg was there. She told Inner City Press that the room chosen was too small, and that students outside, some supportive of Lubanga and the UPC militia, began to make noise. The ICC cancelled the afternoon's screening, which was Lubanga's lawyers' chance to speak. The ICC ended up appearing to be one-sided. Ms. Van Woudenberg suggested they increase their outreach.

  While Amnesty International has called on the UN Mission in Sudan, UNMIS, to refrain from helping transfer two of the LRA's leaders, both indicted by the ICC, to Uganda, HRW has yet to take a formal position on this. Ms. Van Woudenberg recounted her meetings with warlords from Laurent Nkunda to Bosco Ntaganda. The latter, she said, began with Rwandan forces of Paul Kagame back in 1991. In a uniquely Congolese trajectory, Bosco passed to the AFDL which overthrew Mobutu and tried the same with Desire Kabila, pere, then moved on to the UPC in Ituri before joining the CNDP, at first under and now over Laurent Nkunda.

    Ms. Van Woudenberg told the Press that the Congolese government in May 2007 asked MONUC to help apprehend Bosco, who has been indicted by the ICC. Inner City Press asked if this request has been rescinded, now that Kabila's government wants to work with the CNDP.  Ms. Van Woudenberg said it has not been revoked, and provides an opportunity.  But with the UN system so invested in the regime of Kabila, to the point where only his opponents are indicted and delivered to the ICC, it's hard to imagine MONUC seeking to use a request that has been politically superseded in order to apprehend Bosco.

  In fact, as Ms. Van Woudenberg confirmed, warlord Peter Kerim who killed and kidnapped UN peacekeepers in 2006 is now a colonel in the Congolese Army, and the UN says little to nothing about it. Ms. Van Woudenberg said that the Congolese government, at a minimum, was involved in brokering an impunity deal with Kerim. But was the UN also involved?

   In the course of Ms. Van Woudenberg travels in Congo -- she is there seven months a year, she says -- she recently met Ugandan General Patrick in the town on Dungu. Gen. Patrick was involved in the UPDF's bloody forced disarmament campaign in Uganda's Karamoja region, in which the UN Development Program was involved. Gen. Patrick told her, I know Human Rights Watch, you are the ones who criticized us in Karamoja. And that is to HRW's credit.

   Ms. Van Woudenberg's presentation was keyed to Ban Ki-moon's travel this week to the Congo. She said that Ban should "bang his hand on the table" on several of these issues. Somehow that's hard to imagine. Watch this site.

Click here for Feb. 12 debate on Sri Lanka

Click here for Inner City Press' Jan. 16, 2009 debate about Gaza

Click here for Inner City Press' review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

Click here for Inner City Press Nov. 7 debate on the war in Congo

Watch this site, and this Oct. 2 debate, on UN, bailout, MDGs

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

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These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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