United Nations Operation in the Congo
(Opération des Nations Unies au Congo, or ONUC)
The United Nations Operation in the Congo (Opération des Nations Unies au Congo, or ONUC), which took place in the Republic of the Congo from July 1960 until June 1964, marked a milestone in the history of United Nations peacekeeping in terms of the responsibilities it had to assume, the size of its area of operation and the manpower involved. It included, in addition to a peacekeeping force which comprised at its peak strength nearly 20,000 officers and men, an important Civilian Operations component.
Originally mandated to provide the Congolese Government with the military and technical assistance it required following the collapse of many essential services and the military intervention by Belgian troops, ONUC became embroiled by the force of circumstances in a chaotic internal situation of extreme complexity and had to assume certain responsibilities which went beyond normal peacekeeping duties.
The Republic of the Congo, a former Belgian colony, became independent on 30 June 1960. In the days that followed, disorder broke out, and Belgium sent its troops to the Congo, without the agreement of the Congolese Government, for the declared purpose of restoring law and order and protecting Belgian nationals.
On 12 July 1960, the Congolese Government asked for United Nations military assistance to protect the national territory of the Congo against external aggression. Two days later, the Security Council called upon Belgium to withdraw its troops from the Congo and authorized military assistance as might be necessary until, through the efforts of the Government with the technical assistance of the United Nations, the national security forces might be able, in the Government's opinion, to meet their tasks fully. [The Council resolution was adopted by 8 votes in favour (including the Soviet Union and the United States) to none against, with three abstentions.]
In less than 48 hours, contingents of a United Nations Force, provided by a number of countries including Asian and African States began to arrive in the Congo. At the same time, United Nations civilian experts were rushed to the Congo to help ensure the continued operations of essential public services.
Over the next four years, the task of the United Nations Operations in the Congo was to help the Congolese Government restore and maintain the political independence and territorial integrity of the Congo; to help it maintain law and order throughout the country; and to put into effect a wide and long-range programme of training and technical assistance.
To meet the vast and complex task before it, the United Nations had to assemble a very large team. At its peak strength, the United Nations Force totalled nearly 20,000 officers and men. Due to poor combat training and a lack of vigilance nine out of eleven men were killed in an Irish patrol along the Kivu and Katanga border in November 1960. The Irish believed that their blue armbands ensured their welcome. Thirteen Italian airmen from an ONUC aircraft were taken from the officer mess in Stanleyville shot and eaten by mutinous Congolese. The Malayans who were guarding the airfield did not expect such an incident.
The instructions of the Security Council to this Force were strengthened early in 1961 after the assassination in Katanga province of former Prime Minster Patrice Lumumba. The Force was to protect the Congo from outside interference, particularly by evacuating foreign mercenaries, and advisers from Katanga and preventing clashes and civil strife, by force if necessary as a last resort.
Following the reconvening of Parliament in August 1961 under United Nations auspices, the main problem was the attempted secession, led and financed by foreign elements, of the province of Katanga. In September and December 1961, and again in December 1962, the secessionist gendarmes under the command of foreign mercenaries clashed with the United Nations Force. Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld lost his life on 17 September 1961 in the crash of his airplane on the way to Ndola (in what is now Zambia) where talks were to be held for the cessation of hostilities. In February 1963, after Katanga had been reintegrated into the national territory of the Congo, a phasing out of the Force was begun, aimed at its termination by the end of that year. At the request of the Congolese Government, however, the General Assembly authorized the stay of a reduced number of troops for a further six months. The Force was completely withdrawn by 30 June 1964.
Although the military phase of the United Nations Operation in the Congo had ended, civilian aid continued in the largest single programme of assistance undertaken until that time by the world Organization and its agencies, with some 2,000 experts at work in the nation at the peak of the program in 1963-1964.
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