Blue is not the colour when it comes to solving the DRC crisis
AS IF India does not have enough troubles of its own containing the terrorist atrocities in Mumbai, its armed forces have come under a different kind of attack in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) where they form a quarter of the UN's 16,5000-strong deployment maintaining what passes for peace in this troubled part of the world. As might be expected with such an impossible remit, the blue-helmeted and -turbaned troops have been hard pushed to make any impression on a conflict which is partly tribal and partly driven by over-wheening local political ambitions.
Things came to a head last week when the DRC's foreign minister, Alexis Thambwe-Mwamba, put aside diplomatic decorum and bluntly accused certain UN forces of aiding and abetting operations carried out by troops loyal to Laurent Nkunda, the leader of the rebel National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP). As Thambwe-Mwamba was referring to the eastern sector of the country, he could only have had the Indian garrison in mind - and if there were any doubts, he dispelled them by saying that more Indian troops in the country would not be welcomed as part of a proposed UN expansion.
What the DRC really wants is the deployment of a brigade-sized battle group drawn from European armies and ideally under Nato or EU leadership. It's easy to see why they have made the request for 3,000 troops backed up by air power. The current UN mission, known as Monuc, is under-funded and over-stretched and there are question marks over its ability to take any positive action to prevent the present situation deteriorating into a full-blown humanitarian disaster.
That's why a group of African political elders added their voice to the request on the grounds that the Europeans have to bring their "personal political leadership" to ease the crisis. Led by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former South African president FW de Klerk, they argue that the situation in the eastern areas of the DRC is little different from what has taking place in the Balkans a decade ago, and that the world cannot stand by and allow the mayhem to degenerate into genocide.
To date, a quarter of a million people have been displaced since the fighting broke out between Nkunda's CNDP and the DRC government, and if past experience tells us anything it will only get worse before it gets better.
Others have also added their voices, including former Czech president Vaclev Havel, Mary Robinson, fomerly High Commissioner for Human Rights at the UN, and Robert Goldstone, the UN's chief prosecutor for human rights crimes. It's good that they should their voice their concerns but to be honest it's probably too little, too late. The news coming out of the eastern DRC is not good and it will probably get worse if the main town, Goma, falls into the hands of Nkunda's forces. With evidence growing that the CNDP is using Rwanda as a rear area for supply, everything is now pointing to a grim repetition of the internecine strife which tore apart the country five years ago. In other words, we're pretty much back where we started when Hutus and Tutsis first started trying to turn local rivalries into genocide.
Quite what the extra troops will do is another matter. Britain's foreign secretary, David Miliband, has already signalled that he might be minded to make a military contribution and that would certainly be easier once the draw-down begins in Iraq next year, but is that a realistic solution? Nato-led forces would be more professional and probably more competent than the present lot, but using their firepower is pure fantasy.
When DRC officials start talking about using attack helicopters against Nkunda's ground forces, the mind boggles. Imagine the outcry if Apache gunships were seen spraying cannon fire onto men and boys armed only with Kalashnikov assault rifles.
There is a need to address the issue but in this case "something must be done" is not the right option. Quite apart from the fact that the additional 3000 troops will make little or no difference other than to become a handy target for the rival DRC and CNDP forces, recent history shows that the arrival of blue-helmeted European troops makes little or no difference once they are hamstrung by a feeble UN mandate. When Rwanda imploded in 1994, France sent in a token force but the rest of the world looked the other way. It was all too intractable, too far away and too dreadful.In all probability the same thing will happen this time round. Local truces will be brokered, diplomacy will do its best and the people will go on dying. And the Indians? They stand accused of gold-trafficking and working alongside Nkunda's forces.
Source: Trevor Royle, Diplomatic Editor, http://www.sundayherald.com
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