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Rwanda deja vu? UN council hesitates on more Congo troops
In 1994 the U.N. Security Council failed to prevent the slaughter of some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. U.N. officials often refer to that period as the darkest chapter in the 60-year history of U.N. peacekeeping.
In 2000 the council accepted responsibility for dragging its heels and failing to prevent the Rwandan genocide. Members of the 15-nation body vowed to take lessons from the tragedy.
But human rights activists, aid workers and U.N. officials say the Security Council is once again flirting with disaster by delaying action on an urgent U.N. request for more peacekeepers to help avert war in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo — right on the border with Rwanda.
“The Security Council needs to move fast to increase the number of peacekeepers and save lives,” said Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior researcher on the Congo for Human Rights Watch. “The calls from the secretary-general (Ban Ki-moon) and the cries of distress from the Congolese people should not continue to fall on deaf ears.”
The New York Times said in an editorial that the council was “shamefully failing to act”.
“The international community failed to stop Rwanda’s genocide and promised not to let it happen again,” the Times noted. “Has the world forgotten so quickly?”
An estimated 250,000 civilians have fled their homes since August to escape a resurgence of fighting between Tutsi rebels, Congolese government troops and Rwandan Hutu rebels suspected of participating in the 1994 genocide, all eager to gain control of the region’s ample mineral wealth.
According to Congolese President Joseph Kabila, Rwanda is among those causing mischief in North Kivu by backing Congolese Tutsi rebel chief Gen. Laurent Nkunda, who in turn accuses Kinshasa of supporting the Rwandan “genocidaire” rebels.
Making matters worse, U.N. officials say the Congolese armed forces have been guilty of looting and raping in Goma, the capital of Congo’s eastern North Kivu province.
Aid officials say all this has produced a “catastrophic” security and humanitarian situation, and the risk of a repeat of the kind of human devastation caused by a 1998-2003 war that killed several million in the former Belgian colony.
With Nkunda’s forces poised to take Goma, U.N. peacekeepers in Congo, known by their French acronym MONUC, have begged the Security Council to send 3,000 more forces to avoid a new war.
MONUC has 17,000 troops and police, making it the biggest U.N. force on the planet. But MONUC officials have repeatedly warned the council that the is force stretched too thinly to adequately protect the 10 million civilians in eastern Congo.
While aid workers struggle to feed and shelter the starving and terrified masses in eastern Congo, the 15-nation council has sat on MONUC’s pleas for reinforcements for over a month.
U.N. peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy, however, said that members of the Security Council are finally beginning to realize that reinforcements might be necessary.
On Thursday, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown broke the ice by becoming the first leader of a permanent Security Council member to explicitly back a troop “surge” for MONUC.
Activists, aid officials and diplomats hope similar statements will follow and lead to swift council action so another Rwanda can be avoided.