Congo demands stronger mandate for UN troops

Congo demanded a stronger mandate for UN troops in the conflict-torn east Friday, while residents of a squalid refugee camp said government soldiers killed a woman during a looting spree.

Children are being forcibly recruited into the ongoing conflict in Congo. Profile of a former child soldier. Duration: 02:06(AFPTV)

With the United Nations Security Council having approved 3,000 reinforcements for the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a Kinshasa government spokesman urged a new approach.

"It needs a mandate that is a lot more appropriate to the circumstances on the ground," Lamert Mende Omalanga told AFP.

He argued that MONUC, as the UN deployment is known, lacks the means to carry out its mission.

The Security Council voted Thursday to send the reinforcements, who will remain as long as the security situation warrants.

There are now 17,000 troops from 18 nations, including 4,000 from India, in MONUC, making it the biggest UN peacekeeping operation in the world.

Concerns for those displaced by the conflict mounted, with the UN refugee agency saying it was investigating the killing of a 20-year-old woman and the forced evacuation of a number of families from a camp in Kibati.

Residents told AFP the woman had been shot in the head by a stray bullet after government soldiers squabbled over her.

"They come here to loot things from the people, our blankets, pots and pans," said 43-year-old resident Bushe Modeste, who fled with his wife and eight children from fighting around Ruguri.

The teeming camp is close to the front line dividing rebels from government forces outside Goma, the capital of Nord Kivu province, where the conflict is centred.

DR Congo President Joseph Kabila , speaking in neighbouring Congo-Brazzaville en route to Angola and Gabon, said the humanitarian situation was "dramatic and catastrophic".

"Nearly two million of our compatriots are dispersed around Goma and beyond," he said.

Kabila's spokesman Kudura Kasongo said a special summit of the 10-nation Economic Community of Central African States on the Congo crisis will take place next week in Kinshasa, although a firm date has yet to be set.

Bertrand Bisimwa, spokesman for Laurent Nkunda, the renegade general whose rebels surround Goma, said the UN decision "is proof of the engagement of the international community to the Congolese people".

"But rather than an over-militarisation of the region, the United Nations should do more to make the belligerents negotiate as quickly as possible," he told AFP in a telephone interview.

Tensions between Nkunda and Kabila spilled over into a new conflict in August with the rebels accusing the government of discriminating against Congo's Tutsi minority.

Nkunda's National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) withdrew from two front lines in Nord-Kivu province this week, ostensibly to boost a peace mission by UN special envoy Olusegun Obasanjo. But they remain outside Goma.

The peacekeeping force has been criticised for failing to protect 250,000 displaced people, amid atrocities by both the rebels and government forces.

MONUC military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jean-Paul Dietrich said the new UN troops must be of the right calibre to handle a crisis that remains "very volatile".

"We want infantry troops," he said. "We want troops who are mobile. We have also requested engineers. It will be up to the contributing countries to send troops regarding the requirements" on the ground.

MONUC won a small victory on Thursday when Indian UN troops blocked dozens of pro-government Mai-Mai militia trying to enter Rwindi, recently vacated by the rebels.

Speaking to AFP in Goma on Friday, Norway's international cooperation minister Erik Solheim said extra UN peacekeepers would make "a real difference" if they are what he called "battle-hardened troops".

"They will need to come with sufficient helicopters and aircraft and so forth to allow them to get to theatres where there's a real need," he said.

"But let's be realistic," he added. "The United Nations is not there to make peace. That's up to Rwanda (suspected of supporting the rebels) and the Democratic Republic of Congo."

In Geneva, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees expressed growing concern for the safety of 67,000 displaced Congolese outside Goma who have yet to be evacuated to a safer location.

Meanwhile, spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs of the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs said "atrocities and pillaging are continuing," and that 20 cases of sexual violence were reported in Goma in the week to Tuesday.

In London, around 100 Congolese protestors marched on British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's office, urging him to take decisive action to protect those caught in the fighting.

Source: AFP

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