Huge U.N. Congo force fails against rebels - experts

KINSHASA Wed Nov 25, 2009 8:17am GMT

A U.N. soldier stands guard as residents gather for a visit by U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes in Dorouma, Congo, near the border with Sudan, February 9, 2009. REUTERS/T.J. Kirkpatrick/Pool

A U.N. soldier stands guard as residents gather for a visit by U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes in Dorouma, Congo, near the border with Sudan, February 9, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/T.J. Kirkpatrick/Pool

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KINSHASA (Reuters) - The massive U.N. peacekeeping effort in eastern Congo has failed to deliver a knockout blow to Rwandan rebels while local insurgents have seized new territory under its nose, United Nations experts said Wednesday.

Far from resolving the root causes of the violence, the presence of the world's biggest peacekeeping mission has aggravated the conflict in North and South Kivu provinces, the report seen by Reuters Wednesday said.

"Military operations have...not succeeded in neutralising the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda), have exacerbated the humanitarian crisis in the Kivus and have resulted in an expansion of CNDP military influence in the region," the group said, referring to Congolese Tutsi CNDP insurgents.

Congo's army, backed by the 25,000-strong U.N. force, launched an offensive against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda earlier this year as part of a deal to improve ties with neighbouring Rwanda, its enemy during a 1998-2003 war.

In return for Congo's pledges to stamp out the Hutu rebels, some of whom helped orchestrate Rwanda's 1994 genocide, Kigali arrested General Laurent Nkunda, whose CNDP insurgents were then integrated into the army.

While the U.N. Security Council has twice voted to continue peacekeeper support for the operations, rights groups and aid agencies have decried the displacement of more than a million villagers, thousands of rapes, and hundreds of killings.

Despite the surrender of more than 1,200 of its estimated 6,000-to-8,000 fighters, the FDLR continues to replenish its ranks through the active recruitment of both Congolese and Rwandan Hutus, the group said.

The rebels benefit from support networks in Africa, Europe and North America, as well as financing from its control of the east's lucrative tin deposits despite the army's efforts to push them out of mining areas.

"The Group calculates that the FDLR could earn at least several hundred thousand dollars and up to a few million dollars a year from this trade," said the report, which is due to be discussed by the Security Council Wednesday.

The most aggressive operations against the FDLR have been spearheaded by hastily integrated former CNDP units, some of which are under the command of General Bosco Ntaganda, who is wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court.

Officials from Congo's U.N. mission, known as MONUC, have repeatedly denied Ntaganda's involvement in the operations, which it is backing with logistical and operational support including helicopter firepower.

However, the group found that Ntaganda had ordered troop deployments, has established a parallel taxation scheme in CNDP-controlled areas taking in $250,000 (149,600 pounds) per month and has centralised control of hidden weapons caches.

"General Bosco Ntaganda was enforced by both Kinshasa and Kigali as the de facto military head of the CNDP, with specific instructions to manage and control former CNDP elements integrated in the (army)," the report said.

Under Ntaganda's management, integrated CNDP units are accused by the group of experts of widespread abuses including killings, rape, torture, forced labour, looting and extortion.

"Ex-CNDP units have also forcibly displaced large numbers of civilians...in order to find grazing areas for cattle being brought in from Rwanda," the report said.

MILITIAS GROW

As CNDP-controlled units have advanced into new territory, ethnically-based Mai Mai militias, who claim to protect local villagers, have grown in numbers and allied themselves with the FDLR, forming a united front against the army operations.

CNDP commanders have reacted by murdering civilians they accuse of collaborating with the Mai Mai and FDLR.

Earlier this month, the U.N. suspended its support to army units it believed were responsible for killing around 60 civilians in operations against the Mai Mai. The group of experts suggested this may not be enough.

"The Group...underlines the possible contradiction within MONUC's mandate to protect civilians on a priority basis, and that of providing logistic support the (army), while the latter continues to commit abuses against the civilian population," the report said.

(Editing by Michael Roddy)

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