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Eastern Congo Violence Allowed by UN, Fancy Uvira Camp as Council Visits Goma, Gold and Guns Denied

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press in Africa: News Analysis

EN ROUTE TO GOMA, June 8, updated Kigali June 9 -- As Security Council members head to Eastern Congo, the UN's own performance in the Congo has been called into question. It has emerged that during the fighting in December in North Kivu in which the forces of renegade Tutsi general Laurent Nkunda soundly thrashed the Congolese Army, the UN Peacekeeping battalion in the area, Indian nationals, stood down and did not fight. Worse, the orders to take no chances are said to have come from New Delhi, which continues to cash big UN checks for providing peacekeepers to UN mission. But what's the value, in a place like Eastern Congo, if the troops refuse to fight?

   Inner City Press at a Thursday news conference in Kinshasa asked the UN's Alan Doss, head of the UN Mission in the Congo, what he is doing about documented allegations that Indian peacekeepers in Eastern Congo traded for gold, with rebels, and that a Pakistani contingent did the same, according to new interviews given by militia leaders Dragon and Kung Fu from prison in Kinshasa.  Doss off-handedly questioned how anyone could interview them, since they are in prison. Then he repeated the party line from the UN in New York, that these allegations have already been investigated, and only a few of them found true. But even for those found true -- for example, the Pakistanis who drove illegal gold traders around in UN vehicles -- no punishment has been issued. The Pakistanis were sent back to their country, but despite a "note verbale" from the UN, Pakistan has refused to say what discipline, if any, has been imposed on them.

UN on road to Sake, gold and guns not shown

  In fairness to the Pakistanis, many in the region marvel at the way they have transformed the Eastern Congo town of Uvira, or at least their forward base there. An officers' club serves the best Punjabi food, there are Christmas lights on the trees and even swimming and light surfing, when the crocodiles allow. The physical improvements, it is said, are characterized as quick impact projects in the UN's budget. But quick impact for who?

   More seriously on the war crimes and military fronts, the International Criminal Court's indictment and arrest of Jean-Pierre Bemba has caused reactions from other powers on the ground. Nkunda, it is said, sealed off the areas he controls in the days after Bemba's arrest.  A senior member of Joseph Kabila's government who hails from Eastern Congo is said to be re-forming his own militia, in case he needs to hide there. One can never be too prepared. The ICC has promised, and for consistency's sake must bring, indictments about the Kivus. Who'll come first? And are the investigating claims that Rwanda has supplied Nkunda, specifically through Ugandan territory?  And what of the colleague of still-free Peter Karim, who was in a U.S. training program?  If responsibility were truly followed to the top, the Permanent Five members of the Council would not be sitting so pretty. They do, however, have veto rights on Council votes and all of its Chapter VII resolutions like those aimed at Sudan. This Council power over the ICC process was again denied at the Saturday night press conference in Kinshasa's Grand Hotel, when Inner City Press asked Amb. Ripert how Bemba had come up in the earlier meetings in the Palais du Peuple. "The ICC is a completely independent body," Ripert said, the Council is not to interfere with the ICC. But the Rome Statute itself allows the Council to refer cases to the ICC, and even to freeze and put on hold indictments that have been issued by the ICC.

   The Council members' program starts in Goma, with a meeting at the Governor's office then "lunch with Malu Malu" at the Stella Hotel. The risque part is set for Sunday afternoon, a visit to the Mugunga I camp for internally displaced people. An earlier version of the program, shown to Inner City Press, said to have security ready to extract the Council members if the IDPs get violent. It also urged proper behavior by the Congolese National Police (in French the PNC), at least during the few hours that the Council is in Goma. After that...

  The Council is not visiting Sake, the town repeatedly taken by Nkunda. Nor will they visit the Rutshuru camp, which the FDLR recently attacked. The group's press release after the attack, issued by an ex-UN Development Program employee who used UNDP equipment to kill Tutsis, was circulated for response within MONUC's highest reaches. Don't dignify it with a direct response, was the decision. Ridicule it obliquely and really drive the FDLR crazy. But is that what's needed now? Crazier behavior?

   Some in the Congo whisper that Alan Doss, though a nice guy, is not the right man for the task. He did well in relatively post-conflict situations in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Cote d'Ivoire. But the Congo is not truly post-conflict at this time. William Lacy Swing, for all his other bluster for example on Kazana, the town torched by the Congolese Army under the watchful eye of UN peacekeepers then denied, was a hands-on guy, who went out to hold meetings even while fighting raged around him, as in March 2007 in Kinshasa. He moved in an armored personnel carrier and had to be extracted from Jean-Pierre Bemba's house. This is not Alan Doss. His approach in the East seems to involve throwing money at the rebels. The so-called Kisangani process, the Goma accord, all of it, has given rise to the hand-out of per diems to purportedly rebels, some of them imposters. The idea is that if you're paying them, there will not be as much fighting. But close observers of the Kivus note for example that sexual abuse has gone up as fighting has done down, as rage and violence is displaced as people are. The number of IDPs has increased, a troubling fact that Doss and MONUC try, rather than addressing, to spin away by saying the higher count is attributable solely to having more access.

  Speaking of access, or the lack thereof, the French have gotten worse. On the flight from Chad to Kinshasa, there was not a word from Ambassador Ripert.  It's said that Sarkozy's public face of human rights, Ms. Rama Yade, was in town. But again no questions were allowed. As with Chad, missing opposition leaders and Deby's mass evictions, she's got some 'plaining to do about the Congo. Back in March 2007, after hundreds were killed in Kinshasa, France arrived with an aid package and new cooperation agreement, replete with secret clauses. As Inner City Press reported on the way from Sudan to Chad, French Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert bristled at questions about France's deal with Chad, insisting it is not for defense but only... ammunition. So where are these agreements?

Footnote: Also on the security front, it has emerged that back when the Council was still considering visiting Somalia, the UK offered MI6 as protection but was rejected by the UN. UK Ambassador John Sawers left the delegation on Saturday night, whisked to the airport from the Palais de Peuple in a four-by-four flying his country's flag.  More and more Ambassadors are leaving; even some still in Kinshasa were said to stay poolside and not venture to Goma.  In fact, the remaining Ambassadors flew to Goma, although some forewent the IDP camp visit for an NGO briefing that one Ambassador afterwards characterized as same-old, same-old, even "canned." By the time the trip gets to Abidjan, it may be only Burkina and the Press. Watch this site.

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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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