The aid organization Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders) says that United Nations peacekeepers in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo are not doing enough to protect civilians from attacks by the rebel Lord's Resistance Army.  Meanwhile, the United Nations says its mission there is undermanned, with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon criticizing the international community's failure to deliver additional troops to the peacekeeping force. 

Since mid-December, when the governments of Uganda, DRC and Southern Sudan launched a military operation to pursue the LRA in eastern Congo, the rebels have killed more than 900 civilians in reprisal attacks.

The humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders - known by its French acronym MSF - is one of the few that work in the region targeted by the rebels.  It says that an additional 100,000 civilians have been displaced since the operation began and more than 50 villages targeted.  The group says the attacks have been brutal, with men, women, and children stabbed or clubbed to death.  Rapes have also been reported.

'Liability issues' hinder response

According to MSF, the 100 peacekeepers in the area from the U.N. mission, known as MONUC, have done little to protect civilians, focusing instead on providing logistical support to the FARDC, Congo's army.  MSF's field coordinator for the Haut-Uelé region, Hakim Chikam, says the peacekeepers have not intervened in any LRA attacks and have declined on multiple occasions to transport wounded civilians for medical treatment.

"In Nagero, a woman had her throat slit.  Miraculously, she survived.  And, again, while MONUC went to Nagero, they did not take her on board the helicopter, while they were transporting FARDC troops. What they say is that there are liability issues to the transport of injured civilians."

The United Nations says its mission in the DRC is understaffed and that it has to use most of its resources in the east to respond to separate instability in the provinces of North and South Kivu.  Last year, clashes between the government and the rebel National Congress for Defense of the People displaced some 250,000 people there.  The governments of DRC and Rwanda are currently leading another operation to target a Hutu militia operating in the region.

In November, the U.N. Security Council approved an additional 3,000 troops to bolster the existing 17,000 force.  But, in a letter to the Security Council, Tuesday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon criticized the international community's failure to supply troops and other equipment for bolstering the mission, saying that, out of dozens of countries approached, only Bangladesh has offered to contribute additional soldiers.

UN should do more

But MSF's Chikam says the United Nations should still be able to do more with the resources it has.

"We believe that with the presence of MONUC in Dungu they could do more to protect civilians. For instance they do not patrol the streets of Dungu.  The number of troops is not the only element that is important in the protection of civilians.  They could do much more," said Chikam.

The LRA is believed to have between 500 and 1,000 fighters in eastern Congo. The International Criminal Court has issued arrest warrants for five of its top leaders.  Two have since died. A third is believed to be discussing a deal to surrender with the Ugandan army and the International Organization for Migration.

The governments of Uganda, DRC and Southern Sudan launched the current military operation in mid-December, following rebel leader Joseph Kony's failure on multiple occasions to show up to sign a peace agreement that had been negotiated with the Ugandan government.