GOMA, DRC — The commander of the United Nations mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo says the U.N.'s new intervention brigade in Congo is not a magic solution to the country's problems. He says his priority is to stop atrocities, wherever they are happening in the east of the country.
Brazilian Lieutenant-General Carlos Alberto Dos Santos Cruz took over as force commander of MONUSCO, the U.N. mission in Congo, in May. His previous mission was as U.N. force commander in Haiti, where he took on criminal gangs.
The general’s arrival coincides with deployment of a 3,000-strong U.N. intervention brigade in eastern Congo, tasked with carrying out offensive operations to neutralize armed groups. It’s the first time a contingent within a peacekeeping mission has been given such a mandate.
But eastern Congo has a myriad of militia and rebel groups that have kept eastern Congo unstable for years, and on Monday General Cruz warned against unrealistic expectations.
"It’s very important to know that the intervention brigade is one more tool in the mission in order to bring peace to this region. But we need to be very realistic because it is not the magic solution to all the problems. Everyone knows we need to have a political solution," he said.
The DRC government has a delegation at peace talks in Uganda with the rebel group M23, and this week there have been some reports of progress at the talks.
General Cruz said the mission would keep a close eye on the talks and would harmonize military action on the ground with the political conversation there.
He said neither M23 nor any other armed group is a priority target for the intervention brigade.
"Actually we don’t have priorities," he said. "If you have an armed group committing atrocities in Katanga or South Kivu or Ituri, for us it’s the priority because our main goal is to stop violence against the population."
Katanga, South Kivu and Ituri are three areas where M23 is not present.
On Saturday, MONUSCO troops opened fire on an armed group close to a U.N. checkpoint between the M23 and the Congolese army north of Goma.
MONUSCO says its troops at the checkpoint came under fire from unidentified combatants, believed to be from a Congolese Mai-Mai militia, who had attacked an M23 position.
The U.N. peacekeepers fired warning shots, and in an exchange of fire that followed, one of the combatants was killed, two were wounded and a child soldier was captured.
General Cruz said his men had followed their rules of engagement and their reaction was legal.