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UN Attempts to Contain Congo Violence

By Nico Colombant
20 March 2008

The U.N. mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo is trying to help the government contain explosive pockets of violence and insecurity in several parts of the country, while at the same time, cautioning against the government's use of force. VOA's Nico Colombant reports from our regional bureau in Dakar.

Officials from the U.N. mission known as MONUC are expressing concern at persistent insecurity in eastern Congo, and the recent resurgence of a political-religious conflict in the west.

They are reporting recent fighting between so-called Mai Mai militia and Rwandan rebels, as well as clashes between the Mai Mai and ethnic-Tutsi fighters in the North and South Kivu provinces. The fighting to control lawless territory and illegal business interests has created new population displacements as well.

There have also been clashes between the Ituri-based Patriotic Resistance Forces, a group affiliated with local ethnic-Ngiti leaders. They have refused to disarm.

U.N. spokesman Michel Bonnardeaux says U.N. peacekeepers are trying to help government forces contain another active group in the east, known as the Rastas.

They have ties to the Rwandan fighters known as the FDLR, or Forces for the Democratic Liberation of Rwanda.

Bonnardeaux explains the Rastas are one of many groups whose alliances criss-cross a complicated web of armed illegality.

"The rastas as far as we know are not Rwandan combatants," Bonnardeaux said. "They are Congolese combatants, affiliated to the FDLR and operations are already underway against that particular group in South Kivu. Now the details of the operational military plans obviously will not be revealed publicly because of the military nature of such plans but they are, they do exist. They have been produced between the U.N., MONUC in this case, and the FARDC."

The FARDC is the acronym for Congo's armed forces.

Meanwhile, Congo's police have come under scrutiny for their handling of recent violence in equally mineral-rich western Congo, against a militia-backed political-religious movement calling for the re-establishment of the pre-colonial Kongo kingdom. Witnesses say Congolese forces killed indiscriminately and torched homes during the recent three-week crackdown.

The leaking of a preliminary U.N. report on the violence angered Congolese officials, but Bonnardeaux says the U.N. stance is clear.

"MONUC did not qualify the use of force in Bas-Congo or Lower Congo if you will, what MONUC did is to caution the government against the use of excessive force," Bonnardeaux said.

U.N. investigators have said they have confirmation of at least 68 people killed in the crackdown. Hundreds more are missing.

The government says fewer than 30 people were killed. Its interior minister said U.N. investigators had been manipulated.

Bonnardeaux says the official report is being reviewed by the government before its release.

"Some of the initial versions of the report made some notes about the eventual death toll that have happened in Lower Congo," Bonnardeaux said. "Nevertheless, the report was finalized and was sent to the Congolese government for comments. It is customary for the U.N. to send such reports to the government so that the government is not caught off guard and can react when the report does become public."

The European Union has called for dialogue in Lower Congo. The restive Bundu dia Kongo is one of the many groups with an armed component the post-war government and large U.N. peacekeeping force have to deal with to restore stability in the DRC.

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