– The UN prepares to go to war for the first time, with a 3,000-strong task force sent to fight rebels in the Congo (Daily Mail, June 14, 2013)
- 3,000 UN troops are being deployed to the central African nation
- It is the first time that the UN will be in direct control of a fighting force
- Even normally-reluctant Russia and China voted in favour of the action
- Mineral-rich Congo has been wracked by years of civil war
- Conflict was originally sparked by the genocide in neighbouring Rwanda
The UN is about to go to war for the first time in its history after the Security Council voted unanimously to intervene to fight rebels in the Congo.
Around 3,000 UN troops wearing the blue insignia, are being deployed to the central African nation which has been wracked by years of civil war and lawlessness.
The UN has led a 14-year-long peacekeeping in a bid to end the ethic conflict which was sparked by the genocide in neighbouring Rwanda when thousands of Hutus fled into the Congo to evade justice.
Much of the fighting is now over the country’s natural resources which include large quantities of gold, copper, diamonds, and coltan (a mineral used in cell phones).
According to the organisation World Without Genocide, the violence has killed as many as 5.4 million people making it the world’s bloodiest conflict since World War II.
The use of child soldiers in the conflict is also said to be common and in many areas armed gangs are free to roam at will terrorising local populations.
But until now the conflict has been largely ignored by the outside world.
It will be the first time that the UN itself will be in direct control of a fighting force, responsible for the tactics on the ground, troop deployments and air strikes.
The force will be made up of soldiers from South Africa, Tanzania and Malawi and is under the command of Brazilian general Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz, who is credited with dismantling criminal gangs in Haiti in 2007.
It will be deployed against M23 (March 23) rebels in the east of the country.
Speaking to the BBC last month General Santos Cruz said: ‘The most critical area is nowadays the eastern part of the country.
‘I am ready to face the most difficult of scenarios. The main objective is to relieve the suffering of the people.’
The Security Council has gone to considerable lengths to ensure unanimous approval for the action. Even Russia and China, normally reluctant to back such endeavours, voted in favour.
But it is not without risk with some fearing that allowing a UN force to intervene on one side in a civil war could do irreparable damage to the reputation of a supposedly impartial organisation.
The M23 rebellion began in 2012 but has already led to around 800,000 people being forced to flee their homes.
Until recently neighbouring countries Rwanda and Uganda have been supporting the M23 rebels but have recently abandoned them following reports of atrocities and international condemnation of the movement.
Much of the Congo is rich in mineral wealth and has vast agricultural potential. But the years of conflict has meant it has fallen behind the rest of Africa in terms of economic development.
Early signs have been encouraging, with representatives of the M23 movement this week announcing that they want to resume peace talks with the government.
Rene Abandi, who heads the M23 delegation, said on Tuesday that they are ‘committed’ to the Uganda-mediated talks despite plans to deploy U.N. peacekeepers mandated to attack the rebels.
The rebels had earlier insisted the talks were hopeless amid such plans.
The change of tune illustrates the success of international military pressure on rebels who recently spoke of war if offensive peacekeepers were deployed in eastern Congo.
Rene Abandi, who heads the M23 delegation said the group was committed to peace talks.
He said: ‘We are still committed to the dialogue, the ceasefire, and to solving the root cause of the conflict’.
Congo’s government and M23 have been negotiating in Uganda since December under the banner of a regional bloc called the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, or ICGLR, of which Congo is a member and Uganda’s president is the chair.
Jason Stearns, a Congo expert who runs the Usalama Project, a think tank that researches Congo’s armed groups, said: ‘The M23 is worried about the arrival of the intervention brigade – not so much by their military prowess, which remains relatively unknown, but by the political clout that Tanzania and South Africa, who are providing most of the soldiers, have.
‘Still, they hope that (U.N. envoy) Mary Robinson’s insistence on negotiations will make the government more flexible.’
The talks have often been set back by accusations and counter-accusations about who is responsible for rampant violence in Congo’s North Kivu province.
Last year regional leaders under the ICGLR framework asked the Congolese government to listen to the ‘legitimate grievances’ of rebels who now control huge chunks of territory in eastern Congo.
The leaders also urged M23 to stop seizing more territory.