09 Feb

Congo Army Campaign May Force More Than Quarter-Million to Flee

An offensive begun by the Democratic Republic of Congo’s army against rebels in the country’s east last month may force almost 370,000 people to flee their homes, the United Nations said.

Congolese troops launched the campaign against the Allied Democratic Forces, or ADF, and other armed groups active in North Kivu province, near the Ugandan border, on Jan. 13. An estimated 196,300 people are expected to flee in the territory of Beni, and a further 173,200 in Lubero as a result, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said Thursday in a report.

Those fleeing would be in addition to the more than 532,000 who were displaced in the two territories during fighting in 2016 and 2017. Army spokesman General Leon-Richard Kasonga didn’t answer two phone calls seeking comment on the report.

Mineral-rich eastern Congo has been blighted by violence perpetrated by armed groups for decades, but in recent years many of these militias have fragmented.

There are about 120 armed groups in North and South Kivu provinces alone, up from 70 two years ago, according to the Kivu Security Tracker, a joint project of the Congo Research Group and Human Rights Watch.

More than 1,000 civilians in Beni territory have been killed in massacres since October 2014, according to the UN report. Congo’s government and the UN mission in the country have attributed most of the attacks to the ADF, a Ugandan Islamist group which has been active in Congo for more than two decades.

UN experts and the Congo Research Group say the situation is more complex and other militias, as well as senior Congolese army officers, have been involved in planning and carrying out the mass killings.

About 5 million Congolese are currently uprooted from the homes mainly due to conflict in the east and center of the country, including about 675,000 living as refugees in Congo’s neighbors, according to the UN.

Nearly a million people fled violence in the first half of 2017, outpacing conflict zones including Syria and Yemen, the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre said in December.

Source: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-02-08/congo-army-campaign-may-force-more-than-quarter-million-to-flee

20 Dec

Kabila Crisis Fuels Conflict in East Congo as UN Targeted

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s succession crisis is adding fuel to the fire in the rebellion-wracked east, where 14 peacekeepers were killed in the deadliest attack on United Nations forces in a quarter-century.

The mineral-rich region has been blighted by inter-communal violence for decades, but President Joseph Kabila’s remaining in power beyond his constitutional limit is giving armed groups a new cause to fight for. His perceived illegitimacy has become a rallying cry for certain militias and in some cases prompted rebels hundreds of miles from the capital, Kinshasa, to combine forces.

The Dec. 7 assault on Tanzanian peacekeepers is part of a “trend of attacks against the government and its UN allies as the political turmoil in Kinshasa intensifies,” said Jason Stearns, director of the Congo Research Group at New York University.

Congo, the size of Western Europe, has never had a peaceful transfer of power. Kabila’s suspected determination to retain office after elections initially scheduled for 2016 were delayed has spurred sporadic urban protests in which dozens of people have been killed.

Kasai Violence

Violence between militias and the government has simultaneously flared in the provinces, including the central Kasai region, where an estimated 5,000 people have died and 400,000 children under five are at risk of starvation. The number of Congolese fleeing conflict in the first half of this year outpaced the rate in Syria and Yemen.

The eastern region has rich deposits of minerals including tin, gold and coltan. While most mining there is by artisanal diggers, militia activity in September forced Toronto-based Banro Corp. to suspend operations at its flagship gold mine.

The UN said it suspects the attack on peacekeepers in the Beni area of North Kivu province was carried out by the Allied Democratic Forces, or ADF, a Ugandan Islamist group active in Congo since 1993. It was just the latest brutality in Beni, where the Congo Research Group estimates mass killings have claimed at least 800 lives since October 2014.

To read the full article, click here.

15 Dec

Under-Fire UN Peacekeepers Struggle in African Nation at War

Scanning the road from a police armored vehicle, Martine Epopa says she isn’t fazed when people make throat-slitting gestures at her United Nations convoy patrolling the capital of the Central African Republic.

Sometimes men jump in the road brandishing machetes, while others just stand and scowl, said Epopa, a 29-year-old Cameroonian police officer and the sole woman in a six-vehicle UN patrol that included Portuguese special forces and Mauritanian troops.

“We just wait until they give up and leave,” she said, clutching her rifle as her vehicle bounced over potholes. “We’re here to make people understand that the UN is here to protect them and their country. It can be challenging.”

Yet the threat is real. Fourteen peacekeepers have died this year in the Central African Republic, and public hostility is increasing toward what’s already one of the UN’s most difficult peacekeeping operations. A series of sexual-abuse scandals hasn’t helped, nor has the perception that the “blue helmets” favor the minority Muslim population over their Christian countrymen. Hidden from sight behind huge blast walls in central Bangui, the capital, the UN headquarters are often a target of violent protests.

In what the UN ranks as the world’s poorest nation where most state institutions crumbled after a 2013 coup, the peacekeepers face a near impossible task of shielding civilians from armed groups roaming the countryside.

Emergency Aid

The 13,750-member force, known by its acronym Minusca, also does everything from helping ship emergency food supplies across a territory as large as Afghanistan to providing logistical support to aid agencies whose workers themselves are under attack.

The UN force has little choice. Fighting rages on in parts of the country and state authority barely extends beyond Bangui. While a few hundred men have been trained for the new army, a UN arms embargo means the government can’t import weapons.

To read the full article, click here. 

13 Dec

Fatal Congo Attack Adds to U.S. Pressure on UN Peacekeeping Boss

A day after 15 United Nations troops were killed by militants in eastern Congo, the organization’s chief of peacekeeping operations described the deadliest assault on UN forces in a quarter-century as retaliation for the mission’s aggressive approach.

The attack came because of the “increasingly robust posture” the UN’s “blue helmets” maintain in the troubled country, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, a former French diplomat who’s the UN’s undersecretary general for peacekeeping operations, told reporters. “We are disturbing them,” he said of the armed groups suspected of being behind the Dec. 7 assault. “They do not like it.”

The battles peacekeepers face in the field come on top of the political and budgetary pressures Lacroix has to manage from the U.S., the UN’s biggest donor nation, as President Donald Trump’s administration continues pressing the global body to rein in costs and end ineffective missions.

After taking office in January, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley led an effort to trim about $600 million from the UN’s $7.3 billion peacekeeping budget for the fiscal year ending in June 2018. The U.S. — which pays 28.5 percent of the peacekeeping budget — had initially demanded $1 billion in savings, citing the high cost of the operations and deployments that were too long. Repeated allegations of sexual abuse by UN forces against civilians further damaged the reputation of the peacekeepers.

‘Be Prudent’

“We have to be extremely thoughtful in how we allocate our resources,” Lacroix said in an interview in his office on the 35th floor of the UN’s headquarters in New York. “There is an expectation that we be prudent and use our resources in the most cost-effective way we can.”

Lacroix, who assumed his post in April, is the fifth consecutive French head of the peacekeeping department. In that role he oversees 106,000 blue-helmeted troops across 15 missions. The peacekeeping effort in Congo is the largest and most expensive, encompassing more than 18,000 troops and about 3000 civilians, with a budget of $1.1 billion.

To read the full article, click here.