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imperialism & war

U.N. finally asserting itself in Congo

After a civil war lasting almost five years, a four year period of ethnic killing separate from the civil war, and half a year of almost genocidal conditions in its northeast provinces, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is finally receiving the full attention of the United Nations.
Observers and critics have noted that the international community largely ignored the situation in DRC during most of those troubled years. African observers have been particularly concerned about what has appeared to be a callous disregard by the U.N., the group that most people think has 'peace on earth' as its mandate. Further, they are only mildly comforted by a beefed up presence of U.N. personnel now that the fighting is over.

There is no question that the DRC government received guidance and assistance in their efforts to resolve these tragic conflicts which have killed more people than any turmoil since World War II. But that aid didn't come from the U.N.; it mostly came from the European Union where both France and Belgium have historical interests in the area and have long been anxious to help, even if not quite anxious enough to send peacekeeping troops during the heaviest fighting.

Still, the U.N. troops who are presently on the ground have begun to exert their authority (they have a Chapter 7 mandate to use necessary force) and have initiated regular patrols of the remaining hotspots in the northeast. They have also started the process of eliminating the weaponry still in the hands of civilians and ethnic militia groups while issuing warnings to the militias that the ethnic squabbles must stop.

On September 5, British officer Lt. Col. Robert Polley, a member of the new United Nations force in the region, had this message for the militia leaders: "The time for numerous armed groups is over. We have every intention of peace-making and peacekeeping. We have the mandate, troops, equipment and the will to do so."

All of this represents a strategic shift by the U.N. who previously sent troops only to DRC's Ituri province, and only in sufficient numbers to protect its own employees. The present contingent, which only took command of the region September 1, assumed control from a French-led coalition who had arrived several months earlier. Those troops managed to calm and control the region with a great deal of success. But again, the French forces came with the assistance and blessing of the European Union rather than the U.N., and that is not a point lost on the Africans.

While U.N. news wires are making much of the recent successes and the new atmosphere of enforcing the peace, the civil war was actually ended by the Congolese themselves. And recent agreements between the various militias in Ituri province to end the ethnic fighting has also been spurred by the Congolese. While local people appear grateful for the presence of the U.N. troops, they are unhappy that the nation was ravaged for five years before anyone paid much attention and, in the end, they have settled their own problems.

Meanwhile, the newly amalgamated armed forces of DRC is finally complete; the previous warring factions reached agreements on the make-up of a new military, including who would lead it, how to amalgamate the various warring parties into a common unit, how to incorporate the ethnic militias of Ituri province who were never part of the peace accord which ended the civil war. But it is complete, the forces are now officially amalgamated. One minor problem remains: what name will it have? No one expects this to create any serious difficulty but it is an issue that has required a lot of discussion without any resolution.

YellowTimes.org correspondent Paul Harris drafted this report.

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