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U.N. Chokes in the Face of Congo Atrocities

Why are "peacekeepers" doing nothing as Rwanda II threatens to unfold?

by
Bridget Johnson

Bio

November 22, 2008 - 12:00 am
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As America and Europe were in the clutches of eleventh-hour Obamania, a tragedy was unfolding in the heart of Africa: Up to 250,000 Congolese had been driven from their homes in the latest fighting that still threatens to engulf more African nations, driven into fetid refugee camps that supposedly offer U.N. peacekeeper protections from the carnage. On Halloween, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asked the U.N. Security Council president to consider sending peacekeeping reinforcements to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Security Council didn’t take it up until this week, approving a French resolution to send 2,785 more troops and 300 more police to the beef up the sorely understaffed force of about 17,000 already there.

Oh, and that valiant Ban begging for more troops? The United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, known by its French acronym MONUC, actually asked the U.N. for more troops — properly equipped and trained to react rapidly to the deteriorating situation there, at that — back on Oct. 3. And those freshly approved troops? No volunteers as of this writing. And pencil in another two months or so for their arrival, not likely by MONUC’s Dec. 31 mandate expiration. No rush or anything, U.N.

But France’s ambassador to the U.N., Jean-Maurice Ripert, got it right on the nose: While quantity is lacking, so is quality. “The rules of engagement, if they are strong enough, they are not being used strongly enough,” he said. No one knows better than the beleaguered Congolese.

As Americans went to the polls on Nov. 4, civilians in the town of Kiwanja, which had an ostensibly protective U.N. base nearby, answered knocks on their doors only to be met by gunfire. The slayings continued into the next day, as Americans and Europeans were snapping up their Obama-headlined newspapers. Human Rights Watch estimated at least 50 killings in Kiwanja; the Congolese Red Cross said it could be as high as 200. Reuters reporter Emmanuel Braun wrote, in part:

In Kiwanja, one distraught woman, crying hysterically, asked journalists to “come and see the five dead bodies in my house.” One was that of her husband. Two more bodies lay outside.

…Journalists asked the U.N. peacekeepers, who have a base nearby, why they had not intervened. They did not reply.

The U.N. later said that they only had 120 peacekeepers at the base, and were too “pinned down by fighting,” according to the Guardian, to save lives.

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