29 Mar 2013

Unprecedented UN force to battle Congolese rebels

The UN authorises an unprecedented military unit to fight rebel groups, alone or with the Congolese army, in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

UN troops in a special brigade will go on the offensive against rebels in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (picture: Getty)

The “intervention brigade” has been given a mandate, unusual for UN peacekeeping, of taking offensive action to protect women and children, especially from sexual violence.

It has been established via a UN Security Council resolution on an “exceptional basis and without creating a precedent” for a period of one year.

It is about putting an end to the suffering of millions of people – the UN’s Herve Ladsous

A statement on behalf of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said: “The secretary-general hopes that the strengthening of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic Congo (MONUSCO) mandate, which also provides for the creation of an intervention brigade to address the problem of armed groups, will contribute to the restoration of state authority and long-term stability in the eastern DRC.

“He remains personally committed to helping bring peace and stability to the people of the DRC and the Great Lakes region and will keep working to ensure this remains a top priority for the international community.”

‘Turning point’

Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Herve Ladsous said: “I do very much think that today could be a significant turning point in the handling of the crisis that for many years the DRC has experienced.

“And at the end of the day, it is about putting an end to the suffering of millions of people.”

Watch more: Channel 4 News Presenter Cathy Newman has been travelling with Angelina Jolie and William Hague in the Congo, where they are raising awareness over the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war.

The resolution, sponsored by France, the United States and Togo, would give the brigade a mandate to operate “in a robust, highly mobile and versatile manner” to ensure that armed group can’t seriously threaten government authority or the security of civilians. It will be able to attack rebels either on its own or with the Congolese army.

It follows the signing of an agreement in February, in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, between the UN and central African leaders to push for peace in the region.

Headquartered in the eastern city of Goma, the brigade will consist of three infantry battalions, one artillery company, and one special forces and reconnaissance company. It will total 3,069 peacekeepers.

The M23 rebel group has been accused of using sexual violence as a weapon of war (picture: Reuters)

British Ambassador Mark Lyall welcomed the resolution’s adoption as an important step towards a time when the women of eastern Congo “no longer need to fear sexual violence and children are protected from the impact of conflict.”

US Deputy Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis said coordination between the military and civilian sides of the UN mission remains crucial to ensuring the protection of women and children, “and to prevent the continuation of the horrible streak of sexual violence” in the Congo.

Sexual violence

The brigade comes at a time of disruption for M23, the rebel group which has carried out numerous attacks in the east of the country. Earlier this month the group split into two factions.

One side, including Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda, suffered a defeat at the hands of the other faction.

Ntaganda then fled intio Rwanda, where he handed himself in to the US embassy. He has since travelled to the International Criminal Court in the Hague, where he faces charges of human rights violations, icnluding the use of rape as a weapons of war.