Peacekeepers, People, and Gorillas in Danger

Bad news on multiple fronts out of the Democratic Republic of Congo:

Hundreds of furious protesters hurled rocks at a United Nations compound in eastern Congo on Monday in frustration that peacekeepers have not halted the rebel advance that is sweeping the countryside.

If it wasn’t clear before — and since rebel leader Laurent Nkunda started launching attacks in August, it has been — then the demise of January’s ceasefire (widely misreported as a “peace agreement”) is now fully transparent. The eruption of violence has exposed the difficulties — and contradictions — faced by the UN peacekeeping mission there (MONUC), which Refugees International articulated in a press release today.

Deployed with the challenging mandate to protect civilians and facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance, MONUC has also been charged with the supervision and enforcement of the buffer zones between the Congolese national army (the FARDC) and the rebel group CNDP led by self-proclaimed ‘General’ Laurent Nkunda. Contradicting this role as neutral intermediary is MONUC’s responsibility for working alongside the FARDC in operations against the FDLR, the rebel movement led by the remnants of the Rwanda genocidaires who fled into DRC in 1994. These conflicting roles, coupled with a lack of military and civilian resources, and a shameful lack of political support, have placed MONUC in an impossible situation.

The alphabet soup of armed elements is testament enough to the tensions in the region, but the real problems hamstringing MONUC have been the international community’s insufficient investment — in both resources and negotiations — and the excessive expectations laid on a peacekeeping mission that was given a nearly impossible mandate. Out of this, along with all sides’ continued interest in a military solution, some frustrated and suffering eastern Congolese have begun to scapegoat blue helmets.

And if the situation weren’t bad enough, the rebels have also taken the “unprecedented” step of seizing a national park full of critically endangered gorillas.