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On DRC Affleck Pitches Chocolate & Meece, Wants MONUSCO Sunset

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 26 -- While Ben Affleck and Russ Feingold were the two who before testifying to the Senate about the Congo met with UN Secretary of State John Kerry, former UN envoy Roger Meece testified as well.

  When Meece was in charge of the UN Mission MONUSCO, there were questions including raised by Ambassador Susan Rice about failing to protect the victims of the Walikale mass rapes, following by a failed project Inner City Press dubbed "Meece's mills."

  Affleck on February 26 praised Meece's tenure at MONUSCO, perhaps being diplomatic -- but he also called for MONUSCO to sunset, to at long last finish. It's similar to calls in Haiti that the MINUSTAH mission be dissolved and the funds be devoted to combating the cholera the UN brought to the island.

  Russ Feingold called for MONUSCO's Force Intervention Brigade to "soon" neutralize the Hutu FDLR militia, as it did the M23. Affleck talked up a kind of organic chocolate bar -- for sale at Whole Foods, he added -- calling it the "magic of capitalism." This goes over big in the US Senate; Senator Flake called it bipartisan, and both sides (and Affleck) praised Cindy McCain.

  Back on February 25, "Sexual Violence in Conflict" was the topic of US Secretary of State John Kerry and his UK counterpart William Hague. One hoped for an update on or at least mention of the more than 100 rapes by the Congolese Army in Minova in November 2012.

   Instead the news was Kerry saying that there will be no US visas for those who perpetrate or order sexual violence in conflict zones.

  OK, here's a place to start: the US-trained 391st Battalion of the Congolese Army FARDC, which took part in the mass rape at Minova.

   That was more than 14 months ago, and yet at today's press conference by the UN Mission in the Congo MONUSCO, it was reported that in the already delayed interview of victims in Minova, interviewers spoke with barely a quarter of the more than 200 listed victims. Still no justice. So will there be visas? This is a test case -- for outcome if any of the Affleck - Kerry - Russ Feingold talks as well.

  Yesterday's Kerry - Hague transcript mentioned "DRC" five times, and "Congo" three, but there was nothing on Minova. Instead, the implication is that all the rapes in Eastern Congo are by the M23 -- not the FDLR, much less the Congolese Army, which the US supports.

  In fact the 391st Battalion, one of two charged with the Minova rapes, was trained by the United States. (Click here for comment the US Mission to the UN provided to Inner City Press, which also first reported that Ambassador Samantha Power raised Minova to Joseph Kabila in October.)

  So maybe a Minova update next time? Or on February 26, when Kerry meets Great Lakes envoy Russ Feingold as well as Ben Affleck? From the February 25 transcript

Secretary of State Kerry: "In the Great Lakes region, we have just – in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where M23 was active, in the Kampala Accord, which Special Envoy Russ Feingold and Mary Robinson from the United Nations and others were engaged in helping to negotiate, we have a section in there that specifically talks about accountability and prevention of rape as a tool of – and holding people accountable in M23 for these acts."

  Back on January 13, after UN envoy Martin Kobler told the Security Council about "the need to address ill-discipline within the [Congolese Army] FARDC and National Police and to pursue all outstanding cases of misconduct," Inner City Press asked him about the FARDC's mass rapes at Minova in November 2012.

  Kobler acknowledged that the most recent hearing in the Minova case had been postponed, that witness statements have still not been taken. Video here, from Minute 6:32.

  Given that the UN says it has a Human Rights Due Diligence Policy of not supporting army units engaged in abuses, how much longer will the UN accept this? Thirteen months and counting.

  Perhaps relatedly, after rumors of the death of Rwanda's Paul Kagame were shot down, across the border in the Eastern Congo, a time-stamped photograph was tweeted of a UN truck full of people on the back, captioned "MONUSCO in Goma celebrating the death of Pres Paul Kagame."

  It seemed worth asking the UN mission chief Martin Kobler to comment on or explain the photograph, and Inner City Press sent this, to Kobler and three MONUSCO spokespeople:

"Please comment on / explain this time-stamped photo, which is being described as a UN truck participating in "celebrations" of the rumor of the Rwandan president's death. Do you dispute that the photo was taken on January 10? To whom is the UN giving a ride in this truck / photo? In what context?"

   After a time, UN envoy Kobler replied:

"@innercitypress Ceci apparait de toute évidence comme une utilisation frauduleuse d'un véhicule de la #Monusco. C'est inacceptable"

  Translated: "This appears clearly as a fraudulent use of a vehicle of the #Monusco. This is unacceptable."

(Translation not by Google, not only because of NSA spying issues but also acquiescence in Digital Millennium Copyright Act abuse by Reuters UN bureau, click here for that.)

  The question became, now what does Kobler, or those above him in New York, do? 

  Inner City Press on January 10 went to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's press conference, 11 am in New York, to ask this question: "in the DRC this morning, after false rumors of Paul Kagame being dead, a MONUSCO truck was photographed in what some call celebrations and Martin Kobler told me is "unacceptable." What do you think your UN should do about this, in terms of the perception of impartiality or bias by the UN?"

  But Ban's acting deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq did not call on Inner City Press, instead automatically giving the first question to the United Nations Correspondents Association (a/k/a UN's Censorship Alliance), then mostly questions soft on the UN about Syria.

  Next came spin from MONUSCO, e-mailed to the Press:

Fraudulent use of MONUSCO truck in Goma

Kinshasa, 10 January 2014 - MONUSCO is aware of a photo being circulated on the internet showing a MONUSCO truck in Goma during a demonstration.

In reality, the truck was taken over by demonstrators while on a regular mission. The driver was alone and unarmed when the incident happened. MONUSCO condemns this agressivity against its assets.

MONUSCO has launched a full investigation to ascertain the circumstances and the context surrounding the incident.

  But how does the UN explain, then, this UN jeep or Four by Four in this longer video of the anti-Kagame protests, from Minute 1:04 to 1:54?

 On January 13, Inner City Press asked Kobler about the two vehicles. He said that both had been taken over, which now seems to mean that the UN drivers remained in the vehicles, carrying the protesters, on the single road from Sake to Munigi, through Goma.

  Kobler said the drivers were unarmed, but even if armed would not have tried to get the demonstrators off, at least not be using force. He said the protesters got off or disappeared out by the Uruguayan peacekeepers' base by the airport. There is more than a little skepticism. But that is what Kobler said: video here, from Minute 6:32.

   Watch this site.

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