News / Africa

DRC: High Hopes for New Intervention Brigade

FILE - M23 rebels near the town of Bunagana, Democratic Republic of the Congo. (Nicolas Pinault/VOA)
FILE - M23 rebels near the town of Bunagana, Democratic Republic of the Congo. (Nicolas Pinault/VOA)
TEXT SIZE - +
Nick Long
— Troops from Tanzania, South Africa and Malawi are starting to arrive in the Democratic Republic of Congo to reinforce the U.N. stabilization mission MONUSCO.  Many observers are wondering if the new force can tip the balance against the rebels.

The Tanzanian general commanding the intervention brigade arrived in Goma last week with some of his headquarters staff.  The rest of the brigade is expected to arrive in June or July.

A spokesman for a civil society group in Goma, Goyon Milemba, told VOA the brigade’s arrival was welcome news.

"For the first time people feel they can look forward to a better future - because the new force has a mission to put an end to the armed groups," said Milemba.

The U.N. mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, MONUSCO, has had 16,000 to 17,000 peacekeepers here for the past eight years, so the arrival of another 3,000 might not look like a game changer.

But Congo expert Jason Stearns, who worked for the United Nations in its previous incarnaton as MONUC, says the brigade will be a force with a difference.

"They will bring with them additional weapons - for example they will have additional attack helicopters," said Stearns. "But they do not bring an enormous amount of logistics.  They bring with them most importantly, I think, a new mandate.  It is a very aggressive mandate.  I would say it is almost an historic mandate for this kind of conflict that allows for aggressive pursuit of armed groups in eastern Congo."

The acting head of MONUSCO for North Kivu province, Alex Queval, puts it slightly differently.  He says it is the first time a U.N. peacekeeping force has deployed a brigade tasked with carrying out targeted attacks to neutralize and disarm armed groups.  

The U.N. peacekeepers already in the DRC will be mainly protecting civilians, Queval says.

"These troops are spread out on the ground in 36 or 37 different camps," said Queval. "Their aim is to protect civilians, not to attack armed groups.  The brigade on the other hand will be concentrated in just two locations.  They will be highly mobile and their job will be trying to persuade the armed groups to disarm.  They are not here to wage war.  They are here to contain, neutralize and disarm the armed groups, so if this can be done without firing a shot everyone will be very pleased.  They can shoot if necessary."

Stearns suggests the brigade’s troops have, in a sense, another weapon - their nationalities.  The troop contributing countries, particularly South Africa and Tanzania have links with the countries of the Great Lakes region.

"Remember the countries currently participating in the UN peacekeeping force - none of them are from the region," he said. "They’re mostly South Asian, actually Indians, Bangladeshi, Pakistanis some Uruguayans. So their states have no involvement in the conflict."

This, he suggests, means there would be a heavy political fallout if the brigade is targeted by rebel groups, such as M23.

"If 10 South African soldiers die, South Africa will be on the phone to leaders in the region, particularly with regard to the M23, they will be putting pressure on Rwanda to bring an end to their support for the M23," said Stearns.

Rwanda has persistently denied accusations it has been supporting the M23.

Several Congolese observers have asked whether MONUSCO can continue its existing mission if the brigade starts targeting rebels.  They suggest the rebels might retaliate against the spread out groups of blue helmets from Asian countries, who could be vulnerable and might even be taken hostage.

Quevel dismisses the idea that the brigade's tasks might become impossible.

"All the necessary precautions will be taken, but I cannot go into military details," he said.

There is broad support for the new brigade from opposition and ruling parties in DRC and from the population, but civil society activist Milemba says they should not be expected to pacify eastern Congo all on their own.

"This mission can only be successful if it is well supported by the Congolese actors," he said. "On its own it would not achieve anything."

Queval says the force is not going to wave a magic wand, a hint perhaps that the United Nations might want to renew the Brigades’ mandate when it runs out in a year’s time.

You May Like

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

Open Source Seeds Hit the Market, Raise Awareness

First open source seeds include 29 new varieties of broccoli, celery, kale, quinoa and other vegetables and grains More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid