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In Confronting LRA, It's Not Only Copters UN Lacks, It's Commitment

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 17 -- A day after the UN explained its lack of action against the Lord's Resistance Army in the Democratic Republic of the Congo by citing the withdrawal of nine Indian helicopters, on Tuesday the UN said that neither the helicopters nor apparently the LRA were so important.

From the UN's transcript of its August 17 noon briefing:

Inner City Press: about the LRA [Lord’s Resistance Army]? Yesterday — and thanks a lot, you’ve given me a written response about this MONUSCO [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo] and the LRA and the difficulty of chasing them down — one of the points was that somehow nine Indian helicopters have been withdrawn and this makes it more difficult for MONUSCO. I spoke to an Indian diplomat who said that DPKO and MONUSCO were aware for months that this contract was not being renewed, that India was not going to continue, and they have other helicopters there, but they were being taken out. So their question to DPKO and to MONUSCO, was why wasn’t some alternative plan made? It seemed like a funny excuse… I guess what I’m wondering is, can you confirm that DPKO knew for months that those contracts were going to be withdrawn?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson Haq: Well, there was quite a lot in that note we sent, so it doesn’t boil down to just that. But certainly, the problem of shifting around air assets so that we can do the needed patrols is always an issue. It’s not specific to the Indian helicopters, per se. It’s about making sure that whatever air assets we have can be deployed to the right circumstances. And as you know, we have other demands on the air assets in the DRC beyond LRA activity.

In DRC, fleeing violence, UN action on LRA not shown

Inner City Press: Well, I guess the question I was left with was — and I’ve also spoken to the Permanent Representative of Uganda, who doesn’t seem very satisfied with MONUSCO’s action on the LRA — how important is the LRA with reports that it’s building a base in Bawele province? What is the UN doing? Can it actually even patrol that area or is it leaving the area?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, we’ve specified to you what we are doing and we’re doing as much as we can with the assets that we have available. That’s what we intend to do; it’s just that our mandated tasks in the DRC also included a huge number of tasks throughout the Democratic Republic of the Congo itself. So our assets have to focus on a number of different priorities, not simply the LRA. But certainly we are trying, with whatever assets we have to bear, we’re trying to do what we can to deal with the issue of the LRA.

   But as Inner City Press cited when it began this series of questions about the UN's inaction on the LRA, UN sources in the DR Congo have been saying that the LRA is a more significant threat to civilians than the FDLR or other Ugandan rebels. So what explains the UN's lack not only of success, but even of focus and effort? Watch this site.

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As LRA Builds Base in Bas Uele, UN Blames Lack of Indian Copters, AWOL on Rape

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 16 -- With the Lord's Resistance Army building up a base in the Democratic Republic of the Congo's Ban Uele region, killing, abducting and raping, what is the UN system doing? Very little, it appears.

The UN now says it patrols an are “as large as Belgium” with its shrunken mission MONUSCO, and that it just can't keep up with the LRA. It says that the pull out of nine Indian helicopters from MONUSCO in the Kivus hurts its ability to patrol Bas Uele.

The fact remains that the UN has two $1 billion peacekeeping missions in the area. It has a new Sexual Violence and Armed Conflict office, that Inner City Press specifically asked about the LRA on August 6. What is the UN doing?

  So little that in exclusive interviews with Inner City Press, Ugandan diplomats express dissatisfaction bordering on disgust with MONUSCO performance. This began under scandal plagued UN envoy Alan Doss, but has apparently not changed under his successor SRSG Meece. On August 12, Inner City Press asked UN spokesman Martin Nesirky:

Inner City Press: On the Lord’s Resistance Army, Human Rights Watch has put out a report saying that they’ve newly recruited 700 more people, one third of them children, and Reuters, in a related piece, quotes a UN source that the LRA is proportionally a much greater threat than the FDLR or ADF, two other rebel groups in [Democratic Republic of] the Congo. I’m just wondering, obviously, you know what [MONUSCO] and the various other missions in the region, including UNMIS… One, can they confirm these recruitment numbers and what’s really being done on this idea of somehow coordinating the missions and trying to put out what’s now described as a bigger threat than what the Congolese Army has been fighting in the ADF and FDLR?

Spokesperson Nesirky: We’re obviously aware of that report, the Human Rights Watch report, and I will be in a position to provide you with a little bit more of a detailed response shortly. What I can tell you is that the area covered by this rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army, is quite enormous, about the size of Belgium. And the resources available to police that area are rather limited. But I will be able to give you some more information shortly.

  Four days later, having gotten no answer, Inner City Pres asked again about the LRA, this time more specifically about the base in Bas Uele. Video here, from Minute 17:26.

  Acting Deputy Spokesman Farhan Haq repeated Nesirky's line about patrolling an area as large as Belgium, which he called “huge,” and spoke of the LRA as mobile. But they are putting down roots, reportedly with an eye on targeting Uganda again in 2011.

  Later on August 16, the UN sent Inner City Press this follow response:

Subject: In response to your question at noon today LRA/MONUSCO
From: UN Spokesperson - Do Not Reply <unspokesperson-donotreply [at]>
Date: Mon, Aug 16, 2010 at 12:37 PM
To: Matthew Lee [at]

- We focus our available resources first on protection of civilians, about 1,000 MONUSCO troops have built and maintain the area's main airstrip and base that serves as a critical logistical hub for MONUSCO, FARDC and humanitarian resupply operations; they also have reconstructed critical main roads and maintain five temporary operating bases in Haut Uele, conducting patrols alone and with the FARDC.

- We provide logistical support to some 6,000 FARDC troops in the area to aid them in their patrols and efforts to protect civilians and counter the LRA threat.

- We have stepped up our civilian presence in the area, including teams working to bring LRA fighters -- most of whom are abductees -- out of the bush and leave the group.

- We are working with local authorities, civil society, church groups and bilateral donors to increase communications and early warning, but communications infrastructure and roads are nonexistent in much of the affected area.

- The UN Missions in the region met in Entebbe in June and have taken measures to improve the exchange of what information is available, identify feasible actions and better coordinate their activities with respect to the LRA threat. MONUSCO has created a coordination cell on the LRA. None of the missions (UNMIS, BONUCA, nor MONUSCO) has the resources needed to neutralize the LRA.

- The recent withdrawal of nine (Indian) helicopters from MONUSCO's fleet have further stretched MONUSCO's capacity to protect civilians -- even though the Indian helis were based in the Kivus. The mission is now "short" some 24 helicopters overall.

There are several problems with this answer, of which we will list only three. First, it is reported that in Bas Uele, MONUSCO is only in Dingila, not in such places as Banda and Anga.

  Second, a senior Indian diplomat tells Inner City Press that India told the UN in advance that one of its two helicopter contracts with MONUSCO would not be renewed upon its expiration. "So where was the UN's Plan B?" he asked -- watch this site.

Victims of the LRA, UN protection not shown, excuses everywhere

 Third, while the UN response brags about providing logistical support to the Congolese Army, FARDC, it is reported that it is the FARCD's “Ours” battalion which since November 2009 has also terrorized residents of Bas Uele, including by committing rapes.

On this -- sexual violence as a tool of war -- Inner City Press on August 6 asked Ms. Margot Wallstrom, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, what the UN and her office have been doing to protect civilians from the LRA. Video here, from Minute 24:02.

Ms. Wallstrom spoke about the benefits of the International Criminal Court indictments, saying that the ICC's cases will now included those who did not stop rape. Video here, from Minute 26.

Some wonder whether those who “didn't stop rape” now include the UN itself. Watch this site.

 Click here for an Inner City Press YouTube channel video, mostly UN Headquarters footage, about civilian deaths in Sri Lanka.

Click here for Inner City Press' March 27 UN debate

Click here for Inner City Press March 12 UN (and AIG bailout) debate

Click here for Inner City Press' Feb 26 UN debate

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

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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