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As Congo Chaos Spreads, Council Questions UN's Military Role, Behind Closed Doors

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

UNITED NATIONS, December 12 -- Events in North Kivu in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo have reached the stage where the UN mission, taking part in a military offensive by the government against the forces of Laurent Nkunda, has issued warnings to civilians to leave, and to Nkunda that it is ready to engage him directly. Wednesday at UN headquarters, the deputy head of the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations Edmond Mulet spoke of North Kivu in a closed-door consultation session of the Security Council. According to participants in the meeting, DPKO was "reminded" to focus on its main mandate, the protection of civilians, and to consider whether providing logistical help to President Kabila to go after a political opponent, Nkunda, before dealing with the genocidaire FDLR made any sense. (Meanwhile, knowledgeable Inner City Press sources in recent days have said Nkunda's been in Rwanda.) Participants in Wednesday's Council meeting opined that Mulet requested and did the briefing so if things get even worse, no one can say that DPKO had not provided information. But will MONUC's policy change?

            The issue itself has been asked and evaded for a week at the UN. On December 4, Inner City Press asked spokesperson Michele Montas:

Inner City Press: Okay.  Laurent Nkunda has been quoted that he wrote to MONUC and he wrote to William Lacy Swing asking them to either appoint a mediator or somehow play, he would say, a more neutral role than is being played.  Did the United Nations receive that request, and... why is the UN, I guess, from his perspective, so clearly siding with what's described as an offensive against a particular area of the Congo?

Spokesperson:  Well, MONUC troops are not engaged in fighting directly.  They have been engaged, as you know, it was said yesterday, I think at the briefing, that they were transporting munitions, mostly for the Government.  And it is in accordance with their mandate.  As far as Mr. Nkunda's letter, I am not aware of it yet.  We will try to reach MONUC and try to get more information on it.

[The Spokesperson later said that the United Nations had received no such letter from Mr. Nkunda.]

Inner City Press: I've heard Mr. Swing say we have to back up the Government, [that] it's the Governmentís decision to attack and if they attack, we support them.  It made me think, how would it be different necessarily, let's say in Sudan or in other countries?  Who at the UN decides when to support a Government military initiative?

Spokesperson:  The Security Council decides.  The Security Council, and the mandate that is given to every peacekeeping mission, the Security Council decides what the parameters are.

            But as Wednesday's consultations revealed, the full Council does not necessarily support MONUC's recent support to President Kabila's military offensive against Nkunda and its impact on civilians. So what safeguards are in place?


UN "peacekeepers" in DRC

On December 9, Inner City Press asked

Inner City Press: in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it seems like the MONUC has advised civilians to leave areas in advance of attacks or movements by the Congolese army.  Who is the UN implying would target civilians -- the Congolese army or the forces of General Nkunda?

Deputy Spokesperson:  This is the first I have heard of this warning, so, again, I would have to check with MONUC for you.  But if, in any position, the UN is aware of any potential harm to civilians, Iím sure that is part of their mandate to warn them against it.

Question:  If they're the ones carrying ammunition and soldiers for the Congolese army and then giving warnings to civilians, my question is, does this imply that they are acknowledging and accepting that civilians might either be targeted?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The United Nations, in no matter what circumstances, will not be in a position to advocate the targeting of civilians in any conflict.  So if they have any knowledge that there is any harm coming to any people, no matter if it's in the Democratic Republic of the Congo or anywhere, it's their duty to warn them.

            As one observer noted, this sounds a lot like Iraq's Falluja...

* * *

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

  Because a number of Inner City Press' UN sources go out of their way to express commitment to serving the poor, and while it should be unnecessary, Inner City Press is compelled to conclude this installment in a necessarily-ongoing series by saluting the stated goals of the UN agencies and many of their staff. Keep those cards, letters and emails coming, and phone calls too, we apologize for any phone tag, but please continue trying, and keep the information flowing.

Feedback: Editorial [at] innercitypress.com

UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

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UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540