Wednesday, April 1, 2009

International action needed

(Originally published at, on March 27)

The recent withdrawals of the Ugandan and Rwandan armies from different corners of the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, call into question the international community’s desire to bring peace to the country.

The Ugandan army’s departure from northeastern DRC – after an abortive attempt to deal a decisive blow to rampaging Ugandan rebels – has left thousands of people vulnerable to continued atrocities.

Sadly, the Ugandan attack on Kony this past December was leaked, allowing Kony to take his soldiers out of the camp before the strike. Then, it took two days for Ugandan soldiers to show up.

This stumbling start to the operation against Kony raised doubts about the seriousness of the effort.

Meanwhile, the numbers of dead and displaced by Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA, in northeastern DRC continue to climb.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reports that another 11,000 people were uprooted in the mid-March attacks by the LRA. This brings the total displaced by rebel raids in the Haut Uele district of Oriental province to more than 188,000 in the last six months.

An additional 990 Congolese have been murdered by the LRA and 747 abducted, the vast majority of them children, UNHCR says. Another 16,000 Congolese refugees who have crossed into Southern Sudan to escape LRA attacks are also receiving assistance.

Requested by the DRC’s president Joseph Kabila, the abrupt end to Uganda’s drive against Kony came without complaint or objection from the UN, the United States or any European Union countries.

Although the military support provided by the US showed that someone was willing to help end the menace of the LRA, the mission was poorly executed and failed in its main objective.

Likewise in the Kivu provinces of DRC. The same populations who have been in turmoil for a decade are once again in panic after Rwanda’s failed attempt to eliminate the threat of Hutu militias.

Despite the capture of Tutsi commander Laurent Nkunda and the DRC’s stand-down agreement with his former militia, serious concerns remain should indicted commander Bosco Ntaganda remain free.

Rather than shrink away from these situations with a quiet shrug, the international community should be preparing to act. Unless a new and more serious effort is organised against Kony and the LRA, a tragedy of even greater proportions will unfold.

Not only will Kony continue the senseless killing in this remote corner of the world, a worrisome message will be sent around the globe. The message is that if you’re far enough off the beaten track, and you’re victimising people who are already marginalised, you can commit atrocities as along as you like.

It doesn’t matter if you’re indicted by the International Criminal Court, as Kony and some of his henchmen have been. You can easily remain free. No one will lift a finger. In other parts of DRC, the message is the same.

Despite the presence of 17,000 UN peacekeepers, ethnic-based militias remain. Occasional interventions by neighbouring countries may generate a temporary diversion, but little will change.Of course, some benefit from the status quo. The well-documented illegal exploitation of minerals in the eastern Congo can only continue as long as the militia fighting is allowed to mask the plunder.

All of this can only stop with aggressive outside intervention.

One viable option is for the UN Security Council to authorise a multi-national strike force to encircle, confront and capture Kony and his commanders. Such an action has precedent and could be accomplished by a seasoned NATO commando strike force.

The same should be done in eastern DRC. The mission of the UN peacekeepers there is fruitless without a peace to keep.

Without active intervention, the illegal plunder of DRC minerals will continue. An available force of 3,300 EU troops is now in Chad, drawn from 26 countries and called EUFOR, which just recently was turned over to the UN.

In the hand-over ceremony earlier this month, the force was called a “new model” for EU involvement in troubled regions of Africa.

Despite the availability, however, one can only wonder about the purpose of the force, since on the occasion of the hand-over, French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner proclaimed, “We won’t intervene ever again in internal affairs.”

The new force expects to have 3,900 troops by June, when the rainy season starts, and 5,200 by the end of the year. Despite Kouchner’s comments, 1,100 French soldiers remain in Chad under an earlier agreement with the government.

Why not use this force for short-term, focused missions to neighbouring countries? Why not stop the endless bloodshed which DRC, Uganda, the Central African Republic and South Sudan have all failed to do?

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