The Security Council today told United Nations peacekeepers in strife-torn eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to prioritize the protection of civilians, including humanitarian personnel, as the number of attacks on aid workers, some of them deadly, passed 100 since the start of 2008.
“As we pass this awful threshold of 100 reported attacks on aid workers in the DRC this year, I insist in the strongest terms that all the armed groups operating in that country, including the national army, ensure the safety of these essential staff, not least for the sake of the people they are desperately trying to help,” UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes said in a separate statement.
At the same time, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s special envoy for the Great Lakes Region, Olusegun Obasanjo has described talks he is leading between the DRC Government and a leading rebel group in the east, where an upsurge in fighting has driven over 250,000 more people from their homes since August, as both difficult and encouraging.
In unanimously adopted resolutions the Council extended the mandate of the 20,000-strong UN Mission in DRC, known by its French acronym MONUC, for another year until 31 December 2009, and renewed until 30 November 2009, sanctions intended to stem the illicit flow of weapons into the DRC and the illicit export of mineral resources that fuel the rebel groups.
The Council condemned the mainly Tutsi rebel Congrès national pour la Défense du people (CNDP) for repeated military offensives which have caused massive displacement of populations in North Kivu province, and the illegal presence of the mainly Hutu Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR) which it said “represent one of the primary causes for the conflict in the region.” It also denounced attacks by the rebel Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Orientale Province and the resumption of hostilities by illegal armed groups in Ituri province.
It expressed “extreme concern at the deteriorating humanitarian and human rights situation,” condemned “the targeted attacks against the civilian population, sexual violence, recruitment of child soldiers and summary executions,” and stressed the urgent need for the DRC Government in cooperation with MONUC and other actors to end abuses carried out by militias, armed groups, and elements of the Government army, police and security services.
The Council called on MONUC, using “all necessary means within the limits of its capacity” and working in close cooperation with the DRC Government, to make the protection of civilians, including aid workers, a priority, contribute to improved security for the provision of humanitarian aid, and assist the voluntary return of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs).
The Mission is to deter the use of force by any armed group, foreign or Congolese, coordinate operations with the Government army’s integrated brigades and support operations led by these brigades to disarm recalcitrant local and foreign armed groups to ensure their participation in the disarmament, demobilization, repatriation, resettlement and reintegration processes.
The Council stressed the importance of MONUC implementing the mandate fully, “including through robust rules of engagement,” and called on the Mission to strengthen its efforts to prevent and respond to sexual violence, “including through training for the Congolese security forces,” in light of the scale and severity of such abuses by armed elements.
It also urged the DRC and Rwandan Governments to take concrete steps to defuse tensions and reiterated its demand that all armed groups, in particular the CNDP, the FDLR and the LRA, immediately stop recruiting and using children and release all children associated with them.
Reporting on the “dialogue” he is facilitating between the DRC Government and the CNDP, Mr. Obasanjo noted that the CNDP had refused to sign a draft cessation of hostilities agreement to strengthen unilateral ceasefire declarations already made by both sides and declined to recommit itself to its own unilateral ceasefire.
Instead it alleged that the Government army had occupied positions from which it had voluntarily withdrawn under its own ceasefire. But investigations by mediators proved the allegations to be unfounded, Mr. Obasanjo said.
Both sides, however, confirmed their continued commitment to the dialogue and are scheduled to hold their next meeting on 7 January.