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DR Congo: UN mission stresses its goal is to help restore state authority

17 October 2007 The United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) remains committed to helping the Government and its armed forces restore state authority, the mission’s military chief said today after reports from the troubled North Kivu province that locals and soldiers have been hostile to the blue helmets.

Gen. Babacar Gaye, the force commander of the mission (known as MONUC), told a press conference in Kinshasa that he had learned that locals in Masisi territory had thrown stones at UN peacekeepers after they evacuated members of the armed forces (FARDC) during recent clashes.

“This equates to incomprehension of the nature of our action by the local population,” he said. “I also received a report yesterday that FARDC soldiers arriving into Goma had a less than friendly attitude towards our troops.”

Both North Kivu and South Kivu provinces, which sit at the far eastern edge of the vast DRC, have been the scene of deadly clashes in recent months between Government forces, dissident soldiers led by renegade Gen. Laurent Nkunda and other armed groups.

MONUC estimates there are as many as 700,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in North Kivu alone as a result of fighting this year, which has taken place as the rest of the country tries to consolidate after landmark presidential and parliamentary elections last year and the earlier formal end to the long-running civil war.

Gen. Gaye stressed that the mandate of MONUC was very clear – to help the Government restore its authority across the entire country – and that its priority was to ensure the security of the local population.

“We give advice and assistance to the FARDC. MONUC supports the FARDC in North Kivu with air reconnaissance, and air transport for munitions, troops and the evacuation of wounded. The towns of Goma and Sake are also protected by MONUC.”

The General added that the mission also escorts humanitarian convoys in North Kivu and has deployed mobile operating bases to make it easier to reach people living in the displaced camps.

MONUC spokesperson Kemal Saiki also told journalists that the mission categorically denied recent reports in the Congolese press that the peacekeepers were in any way supporting the factional forces loyal to Gen. Nkunda.

The situation in North Kivu remains extremely tense, two days after Nkunda troops surrounded a school in the Rutshuru area and tried to enlist children there into their force.

About 150 schoolchildren were given refuge by MONUC blue helmets after fleeing the recruitment attempts by the Nkunda forces.

Meanwhile, in the nearby Ituri province, UN disarmament workers have reported that about 1,800 former combatants have joined the cantonment sites, where they have to give up their weapons and reintegrate into civil society.

But an unknown number of fighters, including those belonging to the FNI armed group, continue to oppose the disarmament drive.



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