Tue, Jun 10, 2008 - Page 6 News List

Council urges Congolese to trust the government


The UN Security Council renewed a push for civilian rule in Congo’s militia-plagued east on Sunday as efforts continue to disarm rebel groups and finally restore peace to the ravaged region.

The country’s hilly eastern border area — the scene of the worst fighting and a humanitarian crisis — has been lawless for so long that citizens have given up on any sort of government, France’s UN Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert said as the group toured Goma, a major eastern city.

“They have to understand the state is there, the state is back and they can ask for help from somebody else other than the militias,” said Ripert, who is leading the council visit to Congo.

A major step in this direction is local elections, which Ripert said should happen “as soon as possible — probably next year.”

“As long as the people don’t see the authority of the state — and legitimate authority through elections — they don’t trust anyone and they rely on militias,” Ripert said.

He said the Security Council was strongly backing ongoing work to demobilize militia fighters — a slow process of regular meetings between the armed groups, a mixed technical commission and the Congolese government.

Ripert said he would also carry back to the UN a request by representatives in Congo for more technical surveillance equipment such as drones — key tools for policing and monitoring a Europe-sized country with few roads and more history of war than peace.

Congo’s UN peacekeeping force is the world’s largest with 17,000 troops, more than 90 percent of those stationed in the east, said Alan Doss, the country’s top UN envoy. But Doss said they are still stretched thin, calling it the equivalent of “one cop for all of Manhattan.”

The UN estimates there are about 20,000 militia fighters in the east, belonging to a number of different groups. Among them are members of an extremist ethnic Hutu militia accused of orchestrating the 1994 genocide of 500,000 ethnic Tutsis in Rwanda. The group and others are accused of razing villages, terrorizing the local population and rape.

The Security Council planned to meet the technical commission — which includes all members of the militias and armed groups — and with regional officials, as well as to visit camps for displaced people and to observe the humanitarian response.

In the Mugunga camp just outside of Goma, orphans and women told stories of hurried flights from homes and fields and ongoing fears that they will be attacked when they go out to gather firewood.

Kabeya Kahindu said she had been living in the camp for more than a year with her husband and six of her nine children. She lost track of three of her children when they fled their village.

“I don’t know where they are. They got lost,” Kahindu said.

And many say they are still too afraid to go back and look for the people they lost or the homes they fled when militias took over their villages.

“The important thing for us is peace but the problem is there are a lot of people who have guns,” said Ernest Kisheku, a 58-year-old farmer who fled his village of Bufamando about a year ago.

“The first thing to do to help us so that we can go back into our villages is to take away all the guns,” he said.

Provincial Governor Julien Paluku said he hoped the UN visit would draw much-needed attention to a suffering region.

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