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UN forces face Congo rebels alone

Video by Nadia CHARBIT

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2008-10-31

Less than a thousand UN troops stationed in the eastern Congo city of Goma face rebel pressure after a collapse of government forces. More troops may be redeployed to the area to shore them up, while diplomatic efforts continue.

To write in with your opinions on the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, click here.


Watch our two-part Debate: 'Going to war in the Democratic Republic of Congo?'


In an exclusive interview with FRANCE 24, Laurent Nkunda, rebel Tutsi leader in the Democratic Republic of Congo, issued an ultimatum to the government, which he accused of siding with ethnic Hutus.


“We give it [the government] the opportunity to negotiate and to remain in power,” Nkunda said, adding that “they only need to isolate themselves from the negative forces [the Hutus].”


In a prelude to his ultimatum, he said: “Government forces are allied to Hutu rebels coming from Rwanda. They are using them, they are working with them, and for us it’s a national threat. We are asking the government to send these [Hutus] back to their country so that we can get peace.”


Implementing the Nairobi agreements


“A peace agreement already exists, it’s just never been implemented,” EU High Representative for security and foreign affairs Javier Solana told FRANCE 24 on the Talk of Paris show. “Political efforts are needed from all parties involved to implement the Nairobi peace agreement”, he added.


The 2007 agreement signed by Rwandan and Congolese leaders in Nairobi acknowledged that the presence of troops from the Rwandan democratic liberation front (FDRC) in eastern DRC posed a “grave threat” to the country’s security. Both parties decided that Rwandan Hutu combatants in DRC were to be extradited back to Rwanda.


So far, the terms of the agreement have not been respected, and the region’s stability hangs by a thread. Solana welcomed the current ceasefire unilaterally decreed yesterday by Nkunda’s rebel forces, but insisted that it is insufficient to ensure lasting peace. Earlier, the UN Security council had condemned the rebel offensive on the key eastern city of Goma.


Nkunda, on the other hand, accused Congolese government forces of failing to respect the ceasefire.


“We pushed back from Goma [the regional capital] about 12 kilometres so that MONUC (the United Nations force in the Congo) can do its best to ensure the security of the town," he explained. "We did it because the town was destabilized in the evening by FRDC government forces, looting, raping and robbing people in Goma.”


It was difficult to investigate the damage and casualties caused during Wednesday’s clashes in the regional capital. Just after the ceasefire announcement, heavy gunfire was heard coming from the city, as well as artillery fire a few kilometers off, in the direction of the Rwandan border. Many of Goma’s residents took flight.


“If they come only to help Hutus, we are going to fight”


Despite the ceasefire, Nkunda admitted he was not in direct negotiations with the government. Rather, he shared occasional communications through MONUC. The UN force is one of the world’s biggest peacekeeping missions, with about 17,000 soldiers, most of them based in eastern RDC.


Nkunda said he would welcome more peacekeepers, but not if they sided with the Hutus. “If they [international peacekeeping forces] are not coming to help, but to restore these negative [Hutu] forces, we will be ready for them … we are going to fight.”


Asked for his reaction on this statement, Javier Solana simply said that "it was useless to react to this type of threat".


Concerned that MONUC forces are “reaching their limit,” the force's chief, Alan Doss, made an urgent request for more troops on Tuesday. "I obviously hope we can get some additional support as quickly as possible, so that we can move this process back on the right track," he said. His request, however, was turned down by the UN Security Council on Wednesday.


A European humanitarian intervention


Should the EU decide to send military reinforcements, they would intervene solely in humanitarian missions, said Solana, adding that Brussels’ priority is to provide humanitarian aid to the tens of thousands of refugees.


“Additional support from the EU will intervene mainly at a humanitarian level. It is important to guarantee the security of Goma’s airport, for example, to ensure that aid effectively reaches the displaced populations,” he told FRANCE 24. An emercency  EU Political and Secuirty Committee meeting on the Congolese conflict  is scheduled on Friday morning.


The EU diplomat said he hoped the international community, and African nations in particular would join the political effort to avoid “an extension of the conflict” to neighbouring African countries.


Rwanda’s role in the conflict is a particularly sensitive issue. Nkunda denies having received any support - moral or material – from the Rwandan government, even lamenting the lack of aid. A cautious Solana admitted the probable existence of “relations, sympathies” between Rwandan President Kagame’s government and Nkunda’s rebels, although he couldn’t specify their exact nature.


Asked whether he believed Rwanda was in any way involved in the fighting, Solana answered “I hope not”.


Date created : 2008-10-31