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July 23, 2013

UN Forces Back Congo Army While Waiting for New Brigade

by Gabe Joselow

As the Congolese army battles M23 rebels near the eastern town of Goma, many are wondering when and if an enhanced U.N. peacekeeping operation will join the fight. 

The army, known by its acronym FARDC, has been attacking rebel positions just north of Goma for the past week, with the latest exchange of fire early Monday.

The U.N. Peacekeeping mission in the Congo, MONUSCO, has been supporting the Congolese army by sending food, water and other supplies to soldiers on the front lines.

But people think the peacekeepers have shown too much restraint in their willingness to confront the rebels, particularly after M23 overran Goma in November last year.

On the road from Goma to the frontline near Kanyaruchinya, 32-year-old Kabanga Maheshe watches as U.N. peacekeeping trucks head north, past a military checkpoint.

He complains MONUSCO is holding the army back. “When our military has advanced MONUSCO stops our forces or calls for a cease fire, I do not know why,“ he said.

A new foreign intervention brigade approved by the U.N. Security Council in March has a mandate to carry out offensive operations against rebel groups in Congo, including M23.

At full strength, the force will include 3,000 soldiers from South Africa, Tanzania and Malawi.  At the moment, it is just at two-thirds capacity, with the remaining soldiers from Malawi expected in the coming weeks.

A spokesman for the MONUSCO in Goma, Colonel Abdoul N’diaye, said there was too much emphasis on this new brigade, and the peacekeepers that were here were doing their job to protect the population.

“All the forces of MONUSCO are on alert and are ready to intervene when there is an attack on the civilian population, or on the town of Goma,” he said.

At the same time, U.N. peacekeepers are continuing their routine patrols in areas controlled by M23, but without the mandate to take offensive action.

N’diaye said these operations would continue while the intervention brigade was being brought up to full strength.

“There is no conflict of interest," he said "the purpose of the patrols is to dissuade certain rebel groups.  At the same time, the brigade is gradually growing and when it will be 100 percent we can begin operations.”

N’diaye said the soldiers training for the new brigade can be deployd into battle sooner if need be.