Congo wants European troops, but Europe mostly doesn’t

One million people have been forced out of their homes by violence since the end of the war in 2003. At this stage things are probably worse than they look.

Tutsi General Laurent Nkunda intends to take the Congolese North Kivu capital Goma, apparently without authority from (Tutsi) Rwandan president Kagame, but there is speculation otherwise. There are 800 UN peacekeepers between Nkunda and the capture of Goma, and civilians are leaving in their thousands. Congolese President Joseph Kabila seems to be allying with Rwandan Hutu militias who fled to Eastern Congo after the Rwandan genocide (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, including leading perpetrators of genocide) against Nkunda (who is himself accused of war crimes).  Nkunda operates a rebellion of minority Tutsis who feel themselves excluded from the transition democracy. Meanwhile Congolese soldiers – government forces – are raping and looting in Goma.

The UN mission isn’t managing to get much done, blaming the financial crisis. The largest UN peacekeeping force in the world – MONUC, 17,000 troops – is there and has drawn up a disengagement plan. Nkunda’s rebels have just dumped it, accusing MONUC of bias and talking about “liberating” all of Congo.  One problem with resolving this is that the peacekeepers speak little French.

It used to be that peacekeeping forces couldn’t intervene with force if there was no real peace to keep, as in Congo. But since Bosnia, this has changed. At the same time, “the use of force should always be seen as last resort”, and maybe this is a difficult call.

In the EU we have elite military battlegroups created for this kind of conflict, and only we have the capacity to deploy troops in the brief time required. Marc Malloch Brown is lukewarm. Iraq has overstretched us and the Congolese will probably have to go short. We will donate 4 million euros, and maybe up to 12 later, to set up refugee camps.

Other than that we’d better hope for a political solution, but things seem to be going the other way at the moment.

Update: Human Rights Watch on Congo.

Update (01 Nov): CNN Backgrounder. BBC’s In Pictures. Maps. Nkunda’s Tutsis are consolidating their hold in Eastern Congo, and civilians are on the move – over 245,000 in recent days. Intense diplomacy is holding the ceasefire, Miliband and Kouchner are in Kinshasa; Foreign Minister of Belgium (the imperial power in Congo until 1960) Karel de Gucht is in Kigali urging the Rwandan President Kagame to support peace (including by preventing the illegal mining by Rwandans within Congo.  De Gucht is calling for a renewal of MONUC’s mandate. The International Rescue Committee survey of January 08 reports that 45,000 people have been dying every month since the end of the war from malaria, diarrhea, pneumonia an malnutrition and other preventable diseases. 5.4 million people have died since 1998. The EU is still discussing troops – Britain is standing by.


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