- The Washington Times - Friday, July 10, 2009


Bad news travels fast. Military and civilian U.N. teams working to bring peace to the lives of people in the Kivu provinces of eastern Congo report vicious attacks on remote, undefended communities, with growing frequency.

Houses are burned with children trapped inside, wives and daughters, and sometimes fathers, are raped and murdered in front of their families. The Forces Democratiques pour la Liberation du Rwanda (FDLR) — a group with roots in the Rwandan genocide of 1994 — commits most of these brutalities.

Humanitarian organizations are struggling to find words equal to their anger over what they see in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) today. They condemn reprisals on undefended communities following operations by Congo’s national army against the FDLR. They point as well to the crimes by elements of the army. Some well-meaning observers urge the United Nations to withdraw from all joint operations against the FDLR until the government puts its military “house” in order.

But such a move would not end the brutality and might well perpetuate it. Time and time again we have seen warlords and armed groups re-emerge and flourish when they sense hesitation and vulnerability.

So what is to be done to end the violence?

First, the government must ensure discipline and end impunity within its own forces. People have to trust in those sent to protect them, and the army needs local cooperation to root out the FDLR. The U.N. Mission in the Congo (known by the French acronym MONUC) is pressing the government to remove notorious offenders in the army. The government promised action to a visiting U.N. Security Council delegation last month.

MONUC and other international partners are providing assistance to improve military justice. Prosecutions have begun and must continue. They must also be transparent so victims can see justice whenever and wherever crimes are committed.

Discipline in the Congolese army will not improve if soldiers are left to live off the land. The government must improve conditions for troops in the field. This means barracks, sufficient food and wages paid in full and on time. Military families need shelter and protection as well. Unfortunately, the world economic crisis has hit the Congo hard, causing a dramatic drop in state revenue owing to plunging mineral prices. Donor partners must dig deeper to help the Congo deal with the crisis and fund the reforms that can help the army gain the confidence of the people.

Other urgent steps are needed. U.N. experts recently presented the Security Council with evidence that some FDLR leaders outside the country are directing operations, communicating via satellite phones to commanders in the Kivus. Those directing the violence today may include individuals implicated in the Rwandan genocide. Some are sheltering in Western countries, immune from the horrors they are inflicting on the people of eastern Congo. They must be held accountable for their actions.

The FDLR today includes many young people who were not involved in the genocide and do not want to spend the rest of their lives as outlaws. Already this year, more than 1,100 FDLR combatants have quit and been repatriated. We should ramp up incentives to encourage others to follow suit.

The Security Council mandated MONUC to protect civilians. We are doing so every day across the Kivus, often in very remote areas. But we are thin on the ground and the reinforcements authorized by the Security Council last year are urgently needed so we can extend our protection network.

MONUC’s joint military-civilian teams work with communities in the highest-risk areas of the Kivus to enable our military commanders to direct their forces to prevent, and not just react to, violence. These teams also work with traditional chiefs, community groups and nongovernmental organizations to promote reconciliation and to resolve grievances that can lead to violence, which has a long history in the Kivus and is not solely related to the presence of the FDLR. More of these teams are needed where they count most — on the ground in the Kivus’ rural areas.

Absence of economic opportunity is the best recruiting tool for armed groups. So MONUC, government authorities and donors have committed to a recovery and stabilization package to repair roads, rebuild schools and clinics, create jobs and expand the police presence in the east. This will not all be done overnight, but early action and quick funding is vital.

Late last year, the presidents of the Congo and Rwanda took courageous decisions to end the CNDP (National Congress for the Defense of the People) rebellion and initiate determined action to deal with FDLR. Vigorous intervention against the FDLR both in the Congo and abroad, backed by credible reform in the national security forces, will ensure that this breakthrough, long advocated by the international community, is not squandered. The people of eastern Congo deserve a future without fear.

Alan Doss is the United Nations’ special representative in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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