Global Policy Forum

Crisis Deserves Attention, Says UN Official


By Kevin J. Kelley

September 18, 2007

The burgeoning threat of renewed full-scale war in the Democratic Republic of Congo deserves as much international attention as the crisis in Darfur, a top United Nations official said last week. Warning of the "potentially catastrophic humanitarian consequences of further fighting" in the eastern DRC, Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes told the UN Security Council, "We need strong, urgent and concerted political and diplomatic action." Military options should be rejected as a means of protecting civilians in the area known as the Kivu, Mr Holmes emphasised. He noted that nearly one million residents of the Kivu have been forced from their homes due to fighting involving DRC government troops and local Hutu and Tutsi militias. Thousands of women and girls have also been raped, Mr Holmes added, describing sexual violence as a "particularly horrific feature of the DRC war" These crimes are committed with "virtually total impunity," he told the Security Council.

An anti-genocide campaigning group called Enough echoes the UN's concerns in a new report co-authored by John Prendergast, a Washington-based Africa policy specialist. "With almost no international fanfare, Congo is on the brink of its third major war in the past decade, and almost nothing is being done to stop it," Enough warns. The two wars fought in the DRC between 1996 and 2002 were "arguably the world's deadliest since World War II," the report points out. Some four million Congolese lost their lives as a result of those conflicts - a death toll roughly 10 times worse than Darfur's.

Mr Prendergast and co-author Colin Thomas-Jensen differ with the UN, however, in suggesting that international military intervention may be needed in the DRC if political and diplomatic efforts fail. The United Nations peacekeeping mission in Congo, known as Monuc, should prepare for offensive operations against a 3,000-strong Tutsi rebel force in North Kivu headed by Gen Laurent Nkunda, the Enough report suggests. Monuc, which consists of 16,500 soldiers from 18 countries, should also develop a strategy to attack Hutu militia members in eastern DRC who refuse to demobilise, Enough adds. But Monuc is currently part of the problem in the Kivus, according to Enough and other monitors. "Incredibly," the Enough report observes, "Monuc is not engaging in any official dialogue with Gen Nkunda."

Some UN troops in Congo have also been accused of smuggling gold, murdering prisoners and trading arms to rebel groups. Citing the findings of an unreleased UN internal investigation, The Washington Post reported in July that Pakistani officers assigned to Monuc had helped a network of Kenyan traders smuggle gold from a mine in eastern Congo. The report by the UN's Internal Oversight Services unit recommended that charges involving the Pakistanis be referred to their home government. No action is known to have been taken against any of the alleged gold smugglers. But progress is being made by the DRC government in stemming corruption involving the country's enormous natural resources, according to two former US officials. Writing last week in The Wall Street Journal, Stuart Eizenstat and Nancy Kassebaum Baker point to the DRC government's recent cancellation of cobalt-mining contracts with a foreign firm, identified in other reports as the London-based Central African Mining and Exploration Co, known as Camec.

Mr Eizenstat, a former US undersecretary of state, and Ms Kassebaum Baker, a former US senator, say the move against this company appears to be "the start of a broader anti-corruption campaign." The Wall Street Journal commentators quote DRC Deputy Minister for Mines Victor Kasongo as promising that the case against Camec will "not be the only one." "The future stability of Central Africa, the interests of European and American investors, and the need to avoid another failed state all ride on the success of President Joseph Kabila in rooting out endemic corruption in the Democratic Republic of the Congo," they write.

But as another indication of the complexity of the DRC crisis, President Kabila's government simultaneously stands accused of re-aligning itself with a 6,000-strong force of Hutu rebels in the Kivus. The Hutu forces operating in eastern Congo under the banner of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) are responsible for the deaths of many civilians in the Kivus, according to human rights groups. Congolese government forces are also guilty of atrocities in the eastern DRC, these groups say. "In a true nightmare scenario," the Enough report warns, "the Congolese alliance with the FDLR could draw Rwanda back into eastern Congo, and full-scale war could again engulf the Great Lakes Region." "The potential for Rwanda to be drawn back into Congo - as it was in the two previous wars - increases with each day the international community drags its feet," Enough warns. Gen Nkunda's rival rebel force has also been accused of human-rights violations on a mass scale.

More Information on the UN Security Council
More Information on the Democratic Republic of Congo
More Information on The Dark Side of Natural Resources
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