The official toll in the Kasasa raid was 100, but survivors said the death toll was at least three times that. Villagers blamed the FDLR, a militia of Congolese Hutus and Rwandan refugees known for its merciless attacks on civilians.
“It was awful,” said one Kasasa resident, pointing to a soft patch of earth containing a neighbor’s remains. “MONUC did nothing. They had to know, but they did nothing. How can that be?”
Congolese from Ituri to Uvira — territory that encompasses most of the Kivus region — have asked the same questions.
Gen. Babacar Gaye, the U.N. force commander in the country, told The Times that the peacekeepers must adapt their strategy to defend civilians better against rebel groups.
“We are scattered because we want to be where civilians are, and are at risk,” Gen. Gaye said. “The international community has taken that as a lesson from MONUC.”
In the Great Lakes region, he said, that means building dozens of bare-bones mobile operating bases near settlements in the lush jungles. The bases patrol their areas and function as a rapid response team to protect civilians and call to other bases for backup.
Peacekeeping officials at U.N. headquarters and on the ground here say they also need more blue helmets and many more helicopters to patrol the sprawling and often isolated population.
Bangladesh in mid-August sent 200 infantry soldiers to MONUC, which will deploy them in the Kivus. Egypt, India and Jordan also have volunteered to send troops, special forces and soldiers with technical specialties.
Several MONUC officers lamented that the local population is still harboring militias or allowing rebels to pass through their villages unreported. This is the kind of intelligence that would, if passed along quickly, help MONUC apprehend the armed men who prey on farmers and families in Congo’s deep brush.
Col. Ranbir, who led about 1,000 Indian peacekeepers in and around Kiwanja, says his troops do get some intelligence from nearby farmers, but little of it is actionable.
Many Kivuans say the United Nations is in league with the militias, possibly trading food and information or even weapons, with the very groups they are supposed to be capturing.
Besides protecting civilians and humanitarian workers, MONUC is tasked with training the undisciplined Congolese national army, known by its French acronym FARDC. Adding to the pressure, the FARDC has absorbed thousands of former rebels, few of whom are model soldiers.
“It is our task to help, to control, to make it work,” Mr. Le Roy said. “Our key issue is to ensure the [Congolese army] is strong enough.”
But, he added, there is little the United Nations can do if President Joseph Kabila’s weak central government cannot pay, equip, feed or discipline its soldiers.
For now, the FARDC more often runs away from battle, relying on MONUC to fight off armed incursions.