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UN's Congo Mission Critiqued by General, UN Fires Back, Blames the USA, ICC Follies

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

UNITED NATIONS, February 13 -- The UN Mission in the Congo, even as it defers to Rwandan troops to fight the Hutu militia FDLR long in the Kivus, is under fire from other quarters. Doctors without Borders said MONUC did not protect civilians from the Lord's Resistance Army. The UN called the report "totally unfounded." Now MONUC's former force commander, General Diaz Villegas, in his end of mission report has said MONUC in most of the country is only capable of "auto-protection," while civilians get killed. Inner City Press asked UN spokesperson Michele Montas on February 11 if the UN has any response to the report. He was only there two weeks, she said, then said all other questions should be directed to the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.

  Inner City Press' inquiries with DPKO, an interchange on background and quick questions to DPKO chief Alain Le Roy and other senior UN official in the hall, glean that the UN is mad to General Diaz. While acknowledging that he was there three weeks and not two, the background briefer questioned why Diaz would have fled the country instead of staying the trying to change MONUC's strategy.  But in his report as quote in El Pais, Diaz says the Mission's Alan Doss said that he was in charge.

  Interestingly, DPKO's position is that they expend political capital appointing a European general to lead a mission like MONUC. The Africans ask why, if it is their continent and they supply many or most of the troops, a European is chosen. And then Diaz flees, compounding the problem. Whistleblower or coward? That appears to be the question.

   Alain Le Roy, who graciously takes questions that the spokespeople for some reason will never answer, said that he was in Kabul when the UN called Doctors without Borders "totally unfounded." He asked for a more credible response, and later a detailed letter went from Doss to MSF. But why is the UN's first reaction always one of defending the indefensible?

MONUC peacekeepers, MSF and HRW reports not shown

  The other senior UN official, who asked not to be quoted by name, said that the fault was the Americans', who funded the Ugandans' attack on the LRA and provided satellite photos, but no back-up. Why don't you ask them, he suggested. While we intend to, questions about the UN should be answered, too.

   And more than is usually the case, some Congo questions were answered Friday afternoon by UN Humanitarian Coordinator John Holmes. He returned Wednesday from the Congo, providing a description of "positive dynamics" in the Kivus, including the integration of the CNDP militias into the Congolese army, and describing civilian suffering in the aftermath of the three-country offensive against the LRA. His long diplomatic training showed through -- he said the assault on the LRA, which has been going to badly, might work out for the best. Inner City Press asked about the MSF report, and he split the difference between MONUC and Le Roy, stating that he found the report "exaggerated," but that MONUC can do more.

  Unlike Spokesperson Michele Montas earlier on Friday, who said MONUC does not have access to the zones of the Kivus in which the Rwandan-Congolese offensive against the FDLR is taking place, Holmes said the UN has 41 positions, and hasn't heard reports of the level of killing by the FDLR -- 100 civilians -- reported by Human Rights Watch. He said he hopes those reports are false.  Or would that be, "totally unfounded"?

    Holmes also defended MONUC by stressing they will not work or "sit at the table" with indicted war criminal Bosco Ntaganda, although he has now been integrated into the Congolese Army, with whom MONUC decidedly works.  Earlier on Friday, Inner City Press asked the head of the State Parties to the Rome Statute of the ICC, Liechtenstein's Christian Wenaweser, for his view on Bosco's freedom and incorporation into an army the UN works with. "We are evaluating the situation," he said, and "can't comment." Video here, from Minute 17:44.

   Also on the Congo, Inner City Press asked Wenaweser about the ICC's trial against militia leader Thomas Lubanga, in which the first witness virtually recanted, after Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo had left the court, too hastily, some felt. Wenaweser acknowledged it was "a rocky start," but said "I'm sure the Chief Prosecutor knows what he's doing." We'll see.

Update of 4 p.m. Friday -- we are compelled to note, and mourn, the death of Congo expert Alison Des Forges, who was killed in the crash of Flight 3407 from Newark to Buffalo on February 12. Her reports on the DRC helped many civilians. She will be missed.

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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