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

6 September 2007

The very complex situation in the Province of North Kivu had the potential to upset things at the subregional level and required a measured approach, the Force Commander of the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) told correspondents this afternoon.

Major-General Babacar Gaye said media attention over the last few months had given a lot of exposure to Laurent Nkunda, who saw himself as the protector of the Tutsi community, one part of which consisted of refugees in Rwanda. Although Nkunda demanded the return of those refugees, the Major-General said that Kivu problems must be settled first, before that could happen. The weakness of the State, a problem of security sector reform, had prevented the Government from extending its authority to the Province, and Nkunda had filled the void.

He said another problem was the “mixage”, a temporary solution whereby previous belligerent soldiers were put together, i.e. two battalions of Nkunda supporters and two Government battalions were put in one brigade. The brigade stopped being mixed when, three weeks ago, two battalions confronted each other over an ammunition truck and MONUC had had to intervene.

However, Laurent Nkunda was reaching out to the Government, he said, and MONUC should assist in that. There should be an immediate ceasefire and a negotiated solution, because the first victims of such confrontations were the civilian populations. A negotiated solution could also avoid insecurity from becoming endemic in North Kivu. MONUC had reinforced its North Kivu brigade with an additional battalion, multiplied its mobile operational bases, and provided a measured support to the Forces Armées de la Republic Democratic du Congo (FARDC). It had helped in evacuations of wounded and transports of reinforcements and logistics on behalf of FARDC. MONUC stood ready to contribute to a negotiated solution.

To a number of questions about possible intervention by Rwanda in the conflict, Major-General Gaye noted as positive that Rwanda’s Foreign Minister, Charles Murigande, had recently visited Kinshasa, but said that Rwanda would never accept that they were providing official support to Laurent Nkunda. The reality was that people joined the fighting on their own and that there was no indication of intervention. Pressed on the issue, he said there was no evidence of military intervention from Rwanda. There could be reports, but “a report is one thing, evidence another”. It was important to know the environment in which one was working. He could see that the topic of Rwandan support was of interest to the press, but he could not elaborate, since, as Force Commander, he had no evidence.

Asked about support of the local population for MONUC, he said, in the past, MONUC had stopped Nkunda from going to Goma and showed its commitment to its mandate, which was in the first place to support the population and, in the second, to support FARDC. It was true that people had indeed thrown stones at his soldiers and that had not been the first time. After all, the United Nations was the “perfect scapegoat”. What was necessary and fair was that Nkunda’s people would go into “brassage” [be integrated in the army]. After all, the security of the civilian population had to be enforced by an integrated brigade, and not by the people of Laurent Nkunda.

He said, in answer to another question, that MONUC had evacuated 27 casualties, 48 families and 50 children to Goma. It had also transported 1.5 ton of ammunition to FARDC. MONUC did not provide any transportation from outside the Province into the Province. MONUC had sufficient strength within the country that could be brought to Kivu, if the situation demanded it. He did not foresee any need to call for back-up or an increase in forces.

Welcoming questions about crimes committed by MONUC personnel, such as sexual exploitation and smuggling, he said the first directive of the Secretary-General to him in 2005 was to pay attention to the problem of sexual exploitation. If nothing was done about it, it could jeopardize all other actions. It was tough on the soldiers, because after 6 p.m. they were under curfew and could not leave the compounds. The Code of Conduct was very clear: fraternization with the Congolese were prohibited. The reality was that there were still some cases. However, taking into account the total strength of the force, they were minimal.

Having served in the military since 1968, he said MONUC was the most disciplined force he had served in, in terms of statistics. However, the impact on the media of those few cases had been very bad for the image of the United Nations. MONUC was up continuously raising awareness, monitoring and training. Anytime there was a case, the Mission reacted quickly, fairly and strongly. The only tool it had was to repatriate and he was confident that the Member States would take appropriate action.

As for allegations about smuggling, he said one should be very careful. Allegations appeared in the media, but if an investigation turned up nothing, that was never mentioned on the first page of the newspaper. The reputation of a person, however, had already been ruined. An OIOS report on allegations of MONUC personnel in helping smuggle gold had been drafted and brought to the attention of the concerned Member States. He had no say over whether the report would be released to the public.

Asked about the abuse and killing of prisoners held by MONUC, he said the matter had been properly investigated and reported to the Department of Peacekeeping Operations. The concerned Member State had taken action against the perpetrators. Because Ituri had been completely disorganized, the United Nations had to do a lot. The force was, therefore, also in charge of holding detainees, which was not the best option. There was a Standard Operating Procedure in place now to mitigate the risks and the force was only holding one detainee.

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For information media • not an official record

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