- The Washington Times - Friday, February 25, 2000

NEW YORK The U.N. Security Council, still chastened by its catastrophic experience in Somalia in 1993, Thursday authorized a peacekeeping force for Congo with a uniquely limited mandate and extraordinarily difficult mission.
Council members unanimously agreed to send a force of up to 5,500 peacekeepers no Americans to the vast Democratic Republic of the Congo, but only after a viable cease-fire has been established.
Diplomats Thursday acknowledged that troops would not arrive in Congo for several months if at all.
U.S. Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke, who has worked to restrict the observer mission to an unusually limited set of objectives, said the deployment of the 5,537-person force depended on "firm and credible assurances" from the parties to the war in Congo that they would honor a cease-fire negotiated at Lusaka, Zambia, in July.
Mr. Holbrooke apologized to council members for arriving late at Thursday's meeting, saying he had been "on the phone with members of Congress who needed to be persuaded more fully."
There will be no American troops on the ground or even providing logistical support, according to U.N. officials. However, Washington is assessed nearly one-third of the cost of all peacekeeping operations, and President Clinton has asked Congress to reprogram about $42 million from other peacekeeping accounts to fund the U.N. Observer Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or Monuc.
This is the first peacekeeping mission undertaken under new rules that require prior notice be given to the U.S. Congress. The U.S.-drafted resolution has been on the drawing board for three months, and has gone through arduous negotiations to limit its scope and refine its goals.
The impossible logistics of the badly battered Congo will make this mission one of the most expensive start-ups in peacekeeping history.
A U.N. official estimated Thursday that the deployment will cost about $500 million for the first 12 months. That investment will pay for 500 military observers and another 5,000 troops to protect them, clustered in four bases.
The soldiers will not protect civilians, nor will they participate in humanitarian relief efforts.
The cost is so high because Congo has few roads and poor communications. A U.N. official said almost everything will have to be delivered by cargo planes, far more expensive delivery than by ship or truck.
By comparison, the U.N. interim civilian administration in Kosovo will cost about $427 million per year, and a mission in East Timor will cost about $200 million.
But those missions involve setting up massive social infrastructures, such as a judiciary and police force.
It will take at least three months "under ideal conditions" to deploy the Congo mission, said a U.N. official who spoke on condition he not be identified. He said U.N. member states must offer troops and equipment to Monuc, and the warring factions must agree to abide by the Lusaka cease-fire.
Officials said there is nothing the United Nations can do without a genuine desire for peace among the warring parties Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia and various rebel factions.
"Trying to push it down their throats doesn't work," the official said. "We learned that in Somalia."
Unlike that ill-fated mission, Monuc will have a uniquely limited mandate.
"This is not a peacekeeping force," explained a U.N. official who warned against "unrealistic expectations."
The four battalions which sources say are likely to come from Pakistan, Jordan, Senegal and Egypt will be tasked to secure four areas inside the vast Central African country as a home base and refuge for the military observers. They will also set up supply lines and medical facilities.
In Congo, the peacekeepers will find a thickly forested nation as large as Western Europe but no infrastructure.
"Imagine Western Europe with no roads," said a U.N. official. He estimated it would take as many as 250 flights by the largest cargo planes to bring equipment into the staging areas, and as many as 1,500 flights by smaller planes to deliver it where it is needed.
Diplomats said they were eager to help Congo make peace, but many had grave doubts that the United Nations would be effective. The council has been under pressure from African delegations, in particular South Africa, to intervene.
"There are so many circuit breakers built in, its fair to say that no one knows when, or even if, [peacekeepers] will be deployed," said one Western diplomat who added that the council's action could be seen as "divorced from reality."
In a brief interview with The Washington Times Wednesday evening, Mr. Holbrooke said he was "deeply concerned that the United Nations is stretched too thin."
"They're trying to run major peacekeeping missions on three continents, and I'm worried about their performance," he said.

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