Who Will Rescue the Congo?


Heads of State and the Secretary General are meeting in Nairobi, Kenya today to discuss the crisis in Eastern Congo. Meanwhile, the tenuous unilateral ceasefire declared by rebel commander Laurent Nkunda seems to have ended as fighting resumed in the Kivu region today.

This is one of the worst–if not the worst–humanitarian crises in the world. War crimes, massacres, and systematic rape have been reportedly committed by all sides. So what is to be done? The United Nations Peacekeeping mission in Congo, MONUC, has 17,000 troops to cover an area the size of western Europe. It is over-burdened and in desperate need of reinforcement. The force commander’s plea for more troops and more equipment has apparently fallen on deaf ears at the Security Council. It’s credibility in the eyes of the local population diminishes with each passing day.

Peacekeepers need support. Desperately. European may step up as it did in 2006. But even that option is fraught with complication:

Henri Bentegeat, a French general who chairs the EU’s military committee, has suggested that an elite force or ‘battle group’ could be dispatched to Congo. Each of these 15 groups contain 1,500 soldiers from the national armies of several EU states. But Alain le Roy, the head of MONUC, has requested twice that number of troops in order to bolster his force.

Neil Campbell, a spokesman for the International Crisis Group, which monitors the causes of conflict, noted that no battle groups have yet been deployed by the EU since they reached full operational capacity last year, even though many observers believe they were set up to deal with situations such as the one in eastern Congo.

While Campbell believes that the EU should commit troops, he is adamant that they should not hail from France. According to declassified documents released by the authorities in Paris during 2007, France gave military and diplomatic support to the perpetrators of the 1994 genocide in neighbouring Rwanda, in which one million ethnic Tutsis were slaughtered. The current Rwandan government has also published reports, which allege that late French president Francois Mitterrand was complicit in the slaughter.

Meanwhile, the people of North Kivu are trapped.

(Photo from Flickr)