30 October 2008
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

PRESS CONFERENCE ON SITUATION IN EASTERN DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

 


Although the ceasefire was still holding in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s West Kivu, and the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) was patrolling the city of Goma, the Mission was stretched to the limit and could not ensure protection of every civilian, Kevin Kennedy, Head of the Great Lakes Integrated Operations Team told correspondents today.


During a Headquarters press conference, he said that remnants of the Forces Armée de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC), which had essentially collapsed, were running amok through Goma, looting and firing.  MONUC had done its best to bring the situation under control but Goma was a city of 1 million people and the MONUC mission had some 850 soldiers with a few support units and a foreign police unit there.  The Mission was now making efforts to redeploy units from other parts of the country.


He said, among other things, an additional attack helicopter had been moved from Ituri to join the two attack helicopters already on the ground.  The problem however, was that internally displaced persons were being used as a screen, hindering movements of MONUC peacekeepers and preventing military actions.  MONUC was trying to protect civilians and prevent any further movement on Goma, but it “is clearly at the very limit of its resources”, said Mr. Kennedy, who is also the Director of Public Information Designate for MONUC.


Still, while the ceasefire was holding, the next step for the Mission was to establish contacts that could restart the political process to address the underlying problems that had created the conflict, an effort in which the Special Representative was very active.  MONUC had, among other things, arranged for a visit of Rwanda’s Foreign Minister to Kinshasa.  Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Foreign Ministers had earlier visited Rwanda’s capital.  The Government’s position was that the problem in the Kivus was essentially a Congolese problem and not one for Rwanda.  However, he said, Rwanda was an important factor in the region.  The Secretary-General was trying to exercise his “moral authority” to stay the advance of the Congrès National pour la Défense du Peuple (CNDP).


Government officials believed that the problems in the Kivus were essentially political in nature and had to be addressed politically.  There was no military solution to the conflict.  The Nairobi and Goma processes remained the guideposts for a solution, he said.  The humanitarian situation was of major concern.  MONUC, which was now in the position of having to protect tens of thousands civilians on the move, had been pressing all parties to allow humanitarian access and evacuation of vulnerable people.  A number of mobile operating bases cut off by the CNDP and the FARDC had to be supplied by helicopter, he added.


Answering correspondents’ questions about reports that some 40,000 refugees had been prevented from entering Goma, Mr. Kennedy said MONUC had not prevented any internally displaced persons from entering the city.  It was possible, however, that FARDC remnants had put up barriers and stopped refugees.  He had no more information, but noted that all armed groups in the Kivus had used internally displaced persons before as hostages.


There was also no information on reports that nine civilians had been killed in the city overnight, he continued.  Although MONUC had a mandate to protect civilians in imminent danger in the areas it was deployed as far as its capacities permitted, the Mission was stretched to the limit.  If MONUC was in a position to take action, it would do so to protect civilians.


Asked whether there were any indications that Rwandan elements were active in the violence, he said the conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo was directly tied to the issue of foreign, as well as Congolese, armed groups operating on Congolese territory.  The Nairobi Communiqué had intended to address that fundamental problem, as both Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo had committed to take measures to address the continued presence and activity on Congolese territory of the FARDC, and the ex-Far/Interahamwe.  MONUC had not been in a position to confirm any direct cross-border support by Rwanda for the CNDP.  “The Mission gives priority to protecting civilians over chasing rumours about cross-border support,” he said, noting that the Joint Verification Mechanism was meant to look into that kind of question.


Turning to demonstrations, sometimes violent, by civilians against MONUC, he said the Congolese people had very high expectations of peacekeepers, as MONUC was the only organized force in the country.  There was an impression that MONUC was capable of everything.  There had, therefore, been a perception in some cases that MONUC had not done enough to counter the advance by the CNDP.  Unfortunately, that had resulted in incidents in which one peacekeeper had been very badly hurt.


Asked whether the Rwandan Government had been fully transparent, as there had been cross-border gunfire, he said in an area where there had been so much conflict and where there was so much distrust, it might be too much to ask for transparency on the part of all players without the necessary confidence building.  The Special Representative was therefore trying to restart the political engagement necessary to calm the region and to build better relations between the countries.


Continuing, he said the Rwandan government had denied that cross-border fire had taken place.  MONUC had been able to confirm that there had been cross-border fire, but had not been able to confirm whether fire was in response to fire from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The situation was so tense that any incident could trigger a much larger problem.


Answering a question about MONUC capacity, he said the North Kivu Brigade consisted of some 6,500 troops.  There was an infantry battalion from India in Goma with approximately 850 troops.  There was also an aviation unit of 300 personnel.  A company of Guatemalan Special Forces had been brought in from Ituri.  In addition, there were military observers in 19 sites in North Kivu who were working on facilitating humanitarian access.  There were three attack helicopters and two mobile operating bases in the area, he added.


Asked whether MONUC could withstand a full assault on Goma, he said the first objective was to sustain the ceasefire.  In military terms, however, a small number of peacekeepers could be an enormous deterrent, the more so as the Security Council had identified the area as one that should be protected.  They could probably not out fire an assault.


In order to fulfil MONUC’s mandate and to fulfil the Nairobi and Goma processes, the Council had been requested to consider additional capacities, as MONUC had no force reserves.  He said 92 per cent of its forces were deployed in the east, 67 per cent of that in the Kivus.  On 3 October, the Special Representative had asked the Council for the “absolute” minimum:  two light infantry battalions, two additional formed police units, two companies of special forces, as well as additional air assets, engineering assets and intelligence gathering and engineering capability.  President Kabila had requested the establishment of a multinational force.


“Everyone has to be concerned about the credibility of the UN in a case like this,” he said, answering another question.  The presence of MONUC, after all, had been a measure of the international community’s concern for the Congo.  It was not just a question of military credibility, it was also a matter of political credibility that touched the heart of the Organization.


Asked about recruitment by CNDP leader Laurent Nkunda, he said he had no specific information.  There had been many reports of additional recruiting and training by Nkunda, including recruitment of child soldiers.


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For information media • not an official record