Friday, November 21, 2008

Now what?

The UN Security Council yesterday unanimously authorized the "immediate" deployment of 3,000 additional peacekeeping troops to the DRC, raising the total number of peacekeepers in the country to 20,000. But observers noted that it could take several months for the troops to arrive, and details about who will provide them and what their mission will be remain to be worked out. Lieutenant Colonel Jean-Paul Dietrich, spokesman for MONUC, urged that the extra troops come well equipped and well trained. "We want infantry troops. We want troops who are mobile. We have also requested engineers. It will be up to the contributing countries to send troops regarding the requirements on the ground," he said.

MONUC has come under criticism recently for failing to sufficiently protect civilians in North Kivu and for not stopping rebel incursions. MONUC currently has about 5,000 troops positioned in North Kivu. "The means we have are fine for patrolling, but to do more than that we are already stretched," said Dietrich. "What we do not have is a mobile reserve -- to act quickly when an event happens. The 3,000 troops won't change our main duty here, which is to protect the civilian population."

France proposed the resolution authorizing the additional troops, but on Wednesday its UN ambassador seemed to imply that MONUC had been overly cautious in its approach to date. "We ... think they (MONUC) should take the opportunity to re-read the rules of engagement," said the ambassador, according to a Reuters report. After the resolution passed, France's chief foreign affairs spokesperson said that "it needs to be stated more clearly that the use of force can very clearly be envisaged ... to protect populations, including in a proactive fashion."

Belgium said United Nations peacekeepers should be given a revised mandate to strengthen their military role and intervene in "illegal" mining. Competition over access to the country's mineral wealth has played a key role in fueling the DRC's conflicts. If the UN could seize control of the main production sites and transport routes, this could neutralize the ability of rebel groups to fund their insurrections--and eliminate one of the central motivations for war.

Aid agencies and human rights observers were emphatic that more needs to be done, and have urged European Union nations to send a rapid-reaction force there. (The E.U. sent an expeditionary force to Bunia in 2003 that halted inter-ethnic fighting in the city.) France, Belgium, and the Great Britain have expressed support for the idea, but so far the proposal has not gained traction. "E.U. leaders are dragging their feet," said Erin Weir of Refugees International. "The diplomats say it is on the table but what we are getting is a lot of dithering," said Human Rights Watch's Anneke Van Woudenberg.

Full text of the UN resolution here.
Reuters report here, AFP here, and Bloomberg here.

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