The United Nations seems to have made a substantial shift in operational goals in the Democratic Republic of Congo, at least according to recent announcements made by Alan Doss, Special Representative of the Secretary General to the DRC. While there has been no official change in MONUC’s mandate, the blue helmets have vowed to go beyond the protection of civilians and UN humanitarian operations and become more proactive in efforts to bring peace to the eastern provinces.
The biggest change is a pledge to support the FARDC, the Congolese army, in its drive to destroy the FDLR, the remnants of the Rwandan Hutu Interahamwe who have terrorized the region for over ten years. Doss says the UN hopes to help the Congolese maintain the pressure on the FDLR recently applied by the joint Congolese-Rwandan military action. While Operation Umoja Wetu (Our Unity) was anything but a definitive victory, it did disrupt FDLR operations and led to the repatriation of significant numbers of Rwandans. Doss says MONUC will provide support to the FARDC as it extends the campaign into South Kivu.
MONUC also pledged to help the Congolese hold territory taken from the FDLR, but recent reports from North Kivu indicate these promises are easier made than kept as FDLR units have moved back into Lubero, Walikale and Masisi, in North Kivu, where they clashed with the FARDC, according to MONUC spokesman Lt. Col Jean-Paul Dietrich. The refugee population continues to swell as the FDLR strikes back following the departure of the Rwandan armed forces last month. At least 8,000 people have been displaced in Lubero, 14,000 west of Musienene, and 17,500 in Kirumba in North Kivu. The UN promise to strike back in support of the FARDC has yet to be fulfilled.
The change in UN attitude is significant because it seems to say that the international body has chosen sides in the eternal conflict. Until now, MONUC has supposedly confined itself to supporting UN humanitarian operations and protecting the civilian population from all belligerents, including the FARDC. By now openly supporting the FARDC, the UN has apparently decided that Joseph Kabila’s government–as flawed as it might be–is legitimate (and it is, having been elected in 2006). The UN stance says that the best way to end the strife is to help Kabila assert the DRC’s right to protect its territory.