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A Novel Idea for Protecting Civilians in Congo

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A Novel Idea for Protecting Civilians in Congo

Posted by Maggie Fick on April 9, 2009

A Novel Idea for Protecting Civilians in Congo

In two recent articles for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Peter Eichenstadt suggests a fairly novel approach to addressing the growing threat of the Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA, in northeastern Congo. But before I get to said idea, let’s revisit the gravity of the LRA threat today.

The LRA is responsible for more than 1,000 civilian deaths in northeastern Congo and southern Sudan since December 2008, when they began a ruthless “blowback” against the joint regional military operation conducted against them. See Human Rights Watch’s recent report on the LRA’s “Christmas Massacres” for detailed information on these latest atrocities. This description from the report clearly describes the nature of these crimes:

[The LRA] used the same tactics in each village: they surrounded the victims, tied them up with cords or rubber strips from bicycle tires, stripped them of their clothes, and then killed them with blows to the head from large sticks, clubs, axes, or machetes. They raped dozens of women and girls before crushing their skulls. They did not spare children and babies.

How is the international community responding to the desperate calls of Congolese people to protect them from the predatory and rapacious LRA?

Thus far, the response has been minimal at best. Several weeks ago, Congolese President Joseph Kabila forced the immediate withdrawal of all Ugandan army soldiers in northeastern Congo. As Enough’s Uganda-based LRA researcher recently told me, a massive security vacuum now looms in the region, and the dangers for civilians are poised to spike even higher in coming weeks and months if the LRA continues their strikes on villages undeterred by any threat of action against them.

Alan Doss, who heads the U.N. mission in Congo, or MONUC, noted today that the 3,000 peacekeepers approved for his struggling mission by the U.N. five months ago have yet to materialize; no troop contributing nations are ponying up the peacekeepers, and Doss said he desperately needs the extra troops to deploy against both the LRA and the Rwandan Hutu militia, the FDLR. As Enough’s John Prendergast wrote today in a op-ed, the LRA and the FDLR are “incorrigible militias responsible for some of the worst human rights atrocities of the last half century.”

Civilians throughout eastern and northeastern Congo need protection now, from whatever force can provide it quickly and effectively. Getting back to Eichenstadt’s idea:

An available force of 3,300 EU troops is now in Chad, drawn from 26 countries and called EUFOR, which just recently was turned over to the U.N. In the hand-over ceremony earlier this month, the force was called a “new model” for EU involvement in troubled regions of Africa…1,100 French soldiers remain in Chad under an earlier agreement with the government. Why not use this force for short-term, focused missions to neighboring countries? Why not stop the endless bloodshed which DRC, Uganda, the Central African Republic and South Sudan have all failed to do? [Emphasis my own]

Yes, you read that correctly; he is asking that the international community to consider sending well-trained, well-equipped, French-speaking soldiers to Congo to protect civilians from brutal LRA violence and to attempt to stop the LRA’s leader, the messianic warlord Joseph Kony, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

This idea is not crazy, and it could work. Yes, the arid Sahelian desert of the Chad-Darfur border region is nothing like the dense tropical forests of northeastern Congo. But even if the standing French troops in Chad would face difficulties adapting to this new environment, it’s hard to imagine that they could not adapt in quicker time than it will take to get 3,000 new MONUC peacekeepers in place.

It bears repeating that civilians in northeastern Congo need protection now; in fact they needed it yesterday, and last month, and last year, when their families were being hacked to death en masse on Christmas day. Who is going to step up to the plate and combat the scourge of the LRA as they continue their reign of terror over an increasing swath of central Africa?

Photo of LRA leader Joseph Kony