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PRESS CONFERENCE BY DIVISION COMMANDER OF UNITED NATIONS PEACEKEEPERS IN EASTERN DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

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

24 January 2006

The commander of Guatemalan special forces in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo was still being debriefed about a clash with fighters of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in which eight peacekeepers were killed and five wounded, Major General Patrick Cammaerts, Division Commander, said at a Headquarters press conference this afternoon.

Briefing correspondents on the Monday incident, Major General Cammaerts said the exact nature of the clash was not yet known to the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), under which the peacekeepers served, and a clear picture would emerge in due course. The wounded soldiers were in stable condition, he added.

The peacekeepers had been in Garamba National Park for a number of months to support the new Congolese national army in operations against the LRA, a Ugandan rebel group that infiltrated the park some months ago, the commander said. “There was a huge firefight, for at least four hours, where we used our attack helicopters to deal with the problem and then the forces were extracted from the park.”

Asked whether the use of special forces and attack helicopters would set a precedent for more aggressive peacekeeping to be used in other countries, Major General Cammaerts said that MONUC was empowered, under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, to use all necessary means to implement its mandate. The last year had seen the Mission’s peacekeepers take a firm, robust stance against armed groups, negative forces, killers, rapists and torturers in accordance with the mandate and rules of engagements.

Regarding the Congolese national army, he told the same questioner that it comprised various groups and former militias that had been formed into new units. It would take “some time” for those troops to stand up without the support of the peacekeepers.

Asked whether the Mission intended to sweep the LRA out of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, disarm them or send them back to Uganda, he said Garamba was a vast area of jungle interspersed with savannah. It was possible to hide there for years without ever being found. In their reconnaissance, the national army and the peacekeepers used information from local people, game rangers and non-governmental organizations working in the area to try to find the LRA fighters. If found, they would be arrested, disarmed and handed over to the Congolese authorities, in line with MONUC’s mandate, which called for such action against foreign armed groups.

Major General Cammaerts said in response to another question that the peacekeepers had not had any information on the presence in Garamba National Park of Vincent Otti, the LRA second-in-command.

Was the use of attack helicopters not more like “search and destroy” than “arrest and disarm”? a journalist asked.

The commander replied that, when under heavy fire from militias or other armed groups, the peacekeepers must have the heavy weaponry to deal with such a situation. It was also useful in protecting the local population from being tortured, harassed, raped and killed.

Did MONUC need more troops? a correspondent asked.

Major General Cammaerts replied that no commander would say he had enough troops. He would especially love more peacekeepers in Katanga -– a province the size of Texas -– especially with the upcoming elections there.

Asked about authority to cross national borders in hot pursuit of foreign armed groups, given that the LRA wandered in and out of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda and the Sudan at will, he said MONUC exchanged information with national armed forces on the other side of the borders, so that they could deal with fighters who crossed over.

Regarding the quality of the Mission’s equipment, he said that sometimes helicopters from 1950 were often better and more solid than modern ones, which were too high-tech to withstand sandstorms and other hard conditions.

He told another journalist that he did not know exactly where the LRA got their weapons and other equipment. Weapons and ammunition were flowing all over the Great Lakes region. It was also difficult to interdict supplies across the “huge” Lake Albert, given MONUC’s limited number of boats.

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For information media • not an official record



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