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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
03 July 2006

DRC: Interview with Congolese army commander in Ituri

BUNIA, 3 Jul 2006 (IRIN) - With a continued fluid security situation in the district of Ituri, northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Congolese army deployed Gen Mbuayama Nsiona six weeks ago to assume overall military command in the area.

Faced with a variety of problems, including those of logistics; equipment; wages for the troops; and still active militia groups; Nsiona's troops have been taking part in joint operations with those of the United Nations Mission in the DRC, known as MONUC, to try to stabilise the security situation ahead the country's first democratic elections in 45 years, scheduled for 30 July. IRIN spoke to Gen Nsiona on 27 June about Ituri's security situation. Below are excerpts of that interview:

QUESTION: What is the current security climate in Ituri?

ANSWER: The general situation is relatively calm with the exception of a few areas such as Djugu where Peter Karim's militia group seized seven UN peacekeepers on the 28 May. The general base of this militia force was in Tche but it has been dislodged to around Mount Aoyu and government troops are now carrying out operations there to neutralise it.

Q: Has it been difficult for the army to deal with problem of the militia groups still active in Ituri?

A: Militia do not operate in units. This is why you have bands operating in areas such as the Bunia-Morabo road where joint patrols of government and MONUC troops are active, down to the border with North Kivu. At the moment, however, government troops are not carrying out large-scale operations because we have given the militiamen a grace period to surrender their weapons against a deadline of 30 June. This is why there are currently no operations to disarm them by force.

Q: How would you describe the relationship between the Congolese army and MONUC?

A: Most of the media reports coming from here are only interested in the negative aspects of the Congolese army and many times have tarnished the image of FARDC [the Congolese army]. Yet the relationship with MONUC is very good, it is a very professional army, which is doing a good job and, from my point of view, as the military officer in charge of Ituri, this needs to be taken into consideration, and credit should be given where it is due.

Q: How serious is the problem regarding the easy availability of small arms and light weapons in Ituri?

A: The infiltration of light weapons such as the AK-47 is certainly a problem, especially against the background of the fact that six years ago, Ugandan troops were operating here in Ituri. After a peace accord was signed and the Ugandan army left, they left all their weapons in circulation here. There is also the infiltration of weapons from neighbouring countries into the district.

The difficulty is in policing people along the border areas. At the border posts, it is difficult as the authorities do not have the capacity to inspect every piece of luggage, every vehicle, every bag of cassava, beans or rice; everything that is entering the country from outside. Yet when you attempt to carry out such checks, the people complain of harassment, so it is a very complex situation and if it is to be improved, action has to executed right from the point of entry where control measures have to be implemented.

Q: If there were tighter international controls on the production and sale of small arms and light weapons, what difference would this make here in Ituri?

A: The implementation of controls would be difficult, such as putting a soldier at every border entry point and beginning the systematic search of goods and vehicles coming into the country. But if measures were taken against the countries manufacturing these weapons, this would serve as a good deterrent. Neighbouring countries such as Uganda produce munitions like the AK-47 rifle, yet we do not even know the number of these produced each year. We know some weapons come through [the port of] Mombasa in Kenya, then on to Kampala [capital of Uganda] and on up to Ituri. In a nutshell, greater control measures are required if the situation is to improve.

Q: You have problems paying, feeding and supplying your soldiers with ammunition; how could this situation improve and how difficult is it for you to operate under such conditions?

A: The question is pertinent and is the nerve centre of everything here. It should be noted that the government has made tremendous efforts to secure the payment of the army; not the quantity or amount of salary, but the timing. Now the troops are being paid on a regular basis. One of the efforts is to know the exact number of soldiers. Once this is known, then better planning can be made to improve conditions.

The country is vast and the transfer of money requires a lot of time and effort but we are now in a position where at least salaries are being paid regularly every month. The other problem [relating] to the total number of soldiers in the army is that we need to know things such as how many uniforms and weapons are needed, once this is concluded things can be handled much better. Also, transport from Kinshasa to Ituri poses a major challenge. Blankets and uniforms for the soldiers have been received, but there is problem of fuel for transport from Kinshasa to this place.

Q: Have your army's logistical problems been a result of government bureaucracy?

A: As you know, the present government is one of inclusion with people from different groups forming the interim administration. So, to take a decision to execute a particular action requires a lot of time. I hope once the elections are held we will have a government of national unity and things will work out well. I tell my men that brighter days are ahead and good soldiers understand there are difficulties and that these difficulties concern everyone.

Q: Once the security situation in Ituri has stabilised, how many troops will be needed to maintain the peace without MONUC's help?

A: More soldiers are needed now in order to force the militiamen to surrender their weapons. We need more soldiers on the ground, now. After the climate of conflict, fewer soldiers will be needed; more police will be needed to work, leaving the soldiers to be deployed in order to intervene and secure specific areas. If I am given two more battalions I could deploy them along the border with Uganda along Lake Albert.

Q: What do you think is the reason for the heavy deployment of Ugandan troops along the Ugandan side of the border, near Lake Albert? How much of a concern is this?

A: It is not only along Lake Albert, but also in Arua in northwestern Uganda opposite the Congolese town of Aru. It is a concern of course, but I do not think they have any intention to attack this country. I see it as a precautionary measure being taken by Uganda to prevent militiamen from spilling over into their own country.

Q: How pertinent to the elections is the deployment of Congolese troops?

A: It is the duty of the police to carry out operations regarding the elections. The army only comes in as a back up. The strength of the police in Ituri is very small, so in some areas the military is required to secure the safety of voters.


This material comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. All materials copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2006

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