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MAJOR PEACEKEEPING OPERATIONS

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DR Congo: Robust posture hastens political process

 

 

In 2005, the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) took a series of important steps in supporting the country’s transitional political process and changing the overall scope of UN peacekeeping.

 

With an authorized strength of 16,700 uniformed personnel under Security Council resolution 1565, the mission began the year began with the establishment of the first multinational divisional headquarters in UN peacekeeping history. (Most peacekeeping missions operate as a single division.) Based in the north central city of Kisangani, MONUC's Eastern Division began operations in February, overseeing a brigade with four battalions in Ituri District, and two more brigades in the two Kivu provinces.

 

MONUC’s Divisional Headquarters in the troubled region of Ituri carried out a pilot disarmament and community reintegration programme, which the DRC Transitional Government had launched in late 2004 in conjunction with MONUC and UNDP. By mid- April, some 15,000 militiamen had been disarmed and 7,000 weapons recovered. To support the stabilization and continue applying pressure on the estimated 2,000-strong remnants of Ituri armed groups, MONUC subsequently created the Ituri Task Force of UN peacekeepers and the Congolese army, Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC),with the capacity to conduct “robust” peace operations anywhere in the district.

 

The creation of a fully-fledged army and police force was among the DRC's most pressing needs. In 2005, MONUC trained six army brigades and 18,000 Congolese police officers. The first phase of integrating the new army was completed at the year's end with the deployment of the sixth integrated FARDC brigade.

 

 

In a partial victory for the peace process, on 31 March, the Rwandan Hutu insurgent group, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), which had been operating in the Kivus, denounced the 1994 Rwandan genocide and pledged to return home peacefully. MONUC swiftly set up six assembly areas in the Kivus, but FDLR members did not surrender in significant numbers. In June, the FDLR leadership subsequently split, delaying the full repatriation of the rebels to Rwanda.

 

At the end of June, the Transitional Government announced its intention to forcibly disarm FDLR combatants operating in the east. Using its mandate to protect civilians, MONUC peacekeepers and government forces launched a series of joint robust military operations that attempted to flush out the rebels and clear their camps. These operations while achieving some impressive results, did not complete the full repatriation of the foreign armed groups. At several points throughout the year, intensified action by MONUC peacekeepers in Ituri and the Kivus drew retaliatory fire from would-be spoilers and hostile combatants. Thirteen blue helmets were killed in combat in 2005, while dozens of others suffered injuries. The most deadly incident happened on 25 February when nine MONUC peacekeepers from Bangladesh, who were on a routine foot patrol to protect a camp of some 8,000 internally displaced persons, were killed in a well-planned and coordinated ambush at Kafé, some 80 kilometers north of Bunia on Lake Albert.

 

MONUC's strong mandate coupled with a high level of international support facilitated in 2005 what would have seemed impossible just a few years earlier: more than 24 million Congolese registered to vote. Between June and December, MONUC provided the country’s Independent Electoral Commission with logistical, technical and advisory expertise. Voter registration kits were distributed to 9,000 registration centres throughout even the most remote corners of the DRC, a country the size of Western Europe. Some materials were even transported by canoe. The commitment of MONUC troops further allayed widespread fears that internal strife and violence would derail the registration. In Ituri, almost 90 percent of the electorate registered, while seven out of the DRC's 11 provinces completed the registration process. Significantly also on 18 and 19 December, polling for the constitutional referendum took place in the absence of serious security incidents, marking a turning point in the history of the country, as it represented the first opportunity for the Congolese people to choose their system of governance in over 40 years.

 

While peacekeepers ensured safety where they were deployed on the ground, MONUC aviation set new safety records in the sky. The DRC is a vast country with its infrastructure virtually destroyed, and almost all key logistical transport is by air. On 18 October,when MONUC marked its sixth anniversary, the mission had recorded 130,000 hours of safe operations, yet another milestone in UN peacekeeping. With a fleet of 68 aircraft operating from more than 60 airports and airfields, MONUC aviation came to rival commercial carriers and overtook them to become Africa's largest airline. Furthermore, this infrastructure proved indispensable in the transport of electoral kits, cargo and personnel in support of the organization of elections scheduled for 2006.

 

In the area of mission support and reform, MONUC took the lead through its implementation of an “integrated mission” concept. Diverse members of the UN family present in the DRC operated in tandem to achieve such results as the repatriation of Congolese refugees from Tanzania and the production of cross-cutting videos and radio programmes designed to educate Congolese citizens while mobilizing funds from the international community.

 

MONUC meanwhile set a tangible example for future peacekeeping operations with the opening on 1 March of the Office for Addressing Sexual Abuse and Exploitation, the first of its kind in a peacekeeping mission. Eleven staff members worked on policy development, training, and advocacy, and also investigated some 100 civilian and military cases over a six-month period. The efforts of the office resulted in a total of 38 repatriations, dismissals and criminal charges for severe misconduct.

 

Also, in 2005, Radio Okapi, the joint radio project launched in 2002 by MONUC Public Information and Foundation Hirondelle, a Swiss nongovernmental organization, became the largest national radio network not only in the DRC but also in the history of UN peacekeeping. Broadcasting in both FM and shortwave transmission, Radio Okapi’s listenership skyrocketed in all of country’s provinces, including in the capital Kinshasa. As the electoral calendar unfolds in 2006, the radio network, with its credibility established as the “voice of MONUC”, will serve as a key tool in helping validate the democratic electoral process and poll results even in the most isolated corners of the country.

 

During 2005 MONUC made considerable advances towards meeting its core objectives. Its partners remained optimistic that in 2006, the DRC's first independent elections in more than 40 years would yield sustainable peace and security, while also attempting to address the war’s legacy through tangible humanitarian and economic development.   

 


Prepared by the Peace and Security Section, United Nations Department of Public Information.

© United Nations 2006