UN Congo troops aim to help fend off Uganda rebels

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Friday, 15 October 2010 08:01 GMT

* Oxfam: MONUSCO should do more to protect against LRA

* DRC army sees U.N. peacekeepers as "obstacle" - official (Recasts with Meece&${esc.hash}39;s remarks to reporters)

By Louis Charbonneau

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 15 (Reuters) - The U.N. peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo aims to boost its presence in the vast nation&${esc.hash}39;s turbulent east, but it can never protect everyone there without more troops and resources, a senior U.N. official said on Friday.

Roger Meece, head of the U.N. force in Congo known as MONUSCO, was responding to criticism from the international aid organization Oxfam, which said that MONUSCO can and should do more to assist civilians in areas where Uganda&${esc.hash}39;s Lord&${esc.hash}39;s Resistance Army (LRA) operates.

"We are looking at what we can do to establish a presence and a greater response capability" in LRA areas, Meece told reporters. "Obviously one of the restraints that we have is ... the forces we have available to us."

MONUSCO, the world&${esc.hash}39;s biggest U.N. force with some 18,000 troops, is "pursuing actions as rapidly as possible," he said.

Earlier Meece told the U.N. Security Council that MONUSCO supports "regional efforts" to deal with the LRA. But he made clear that without more troops and resources, it could never protect all people in Congo&${esc.hash}39;s turbulent east.

"In this vast area, larger than Afghanistan, it is not possible for MONUSCO to ensure full protection for all civilians," he told the 15-nation council. "To approach this goal would require vastly greater force levels and resources."

Meece said more than 15,000 people were raped in eastern Congo last year.


Oxfam said that MONUSCO can and should do more to protect civilians in the DRC, especially where the LRA was operating. The Ugandan guerrillas are known to cut the lips and ears off their victims and forcibly recruit children.

"MONUSCO is failing tens of thousands of people in urgent need of protection and assistance," said Marcel Stoessel, the head of Oxfam in the DRC.

"The LRA has killed and abducted more people than any other armed group in Congo, yet the resources the U.N. allocates to protecting civilians in the affected areas remain wholly inadequate," he said. "The U.N. Security Council should insist on immediate redeployment of peacekeepers."

Seven years after a 1998-2003 war that killed over 5 million people, the DRC is still plagued by insecurity. Rwandan Hutu and local Mai Mai militias are at large in its mineral-rich east and the LRA operates in the northeast.

Uganda says that the LRA has been moving across the porous border between Sudan&${esc.hash}39;s South Darfur state and the Central African Republic.

Meece noted that tensions exist between Congo&${esc.hash}39;s army and MONUSCO. The army, or FARDC, has increasingly come to view cooperation with MONUSCO as "an obstacle to be avoided," he said.

"This has led to an increase in FARDC unilateral operations," Meece said.

Margot Wallstrom, the U.N.&${esc.hash}39;s special envoy for sexual violence in armed conflict, told the Security Council on Thursday that DRC soldiers deployed to an area where hundreds of people were raped by Rwandan Hutu forces in early August may have committed similar crimes after they arrived there.

"There is already some information from MONUSCO peacekeepers on the ground that rapes, killings and looting have been perpetrated by FARDC soldiers," she said.

Meece told reporters that he did not have details on the latest allegations of rape by Congolese soldiers, but said that it may have occurred during the "unilateral" FARDC operations. (Editing by Xavier Briand)

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