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Opinion: DR Congo must reform its security forces

Don't extend UN peacekeepers; start re-training the Democratic Republic of Congo's own security forces.

An Indian peacekeeper from United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC) is seen during a patrol in Kiwanja, Nov. 5, 2008. (Emmanuel Braun/Reuters)

TYAZO, Rwanda — On Dec. 23, the United Nations Security Council renewed the mandate of its peacekeeping force in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It should have allowed the force’s mandate to lapse.

The 20,000-strong force in DRC, known as MONUC (for the French of United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo), is the largest U.N. peacekeeping force in the world. It costs $1 billion a year, nearly one-quarter of the entire U.N. peacekeeping budget. Yet over 10 years since its deployment to eastern Congo, rebel groups run rampant, sexual violence is endemic and many Congolese civilians continue to live in fear. By most measures, MONUC has failed.

Currently, MONUC is charged with protecting Congolese civilians and helping the Congolese army eliminate rebel forces in eastern Congo. It has protected civilians in some cases, as documented by groups such as Refugees International, but its efforts to help the Congolese army not only have failed to eliminate rebel groups, they have undermined its mission of civilian protection.

In 2009, MONUC engaged in joint military operations with the Congolese army, including operations planning, air strikes and joint patrolling. In the course of these military operations, the Congolese army and rebel forces deliberately killed more than 1,400 civilians, according to a December 2009 report by Human Rights Watch. Although U.N. legal advisers warned MONUC not to participate in combat with the Congolese army in mid-2009 MONUC went forward with the joint operations. Their cooperation with the Congolese army even included a Congolese commander who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court.

The five-month extension of MONUC’s mandate asks the force to restructure to better protect civilians. Yet the force’s reputation has been tarnished for years. In 2005, MONUC was embroiled in scandal over the sexual abuse of women and children by its peacekeepers.

By fostering the illusion that a five-month restructuring will allow MONUC to successfully protect Congolese civilians, the extension does more harm than good. MONUC’s problems are so entrenched that any reorganization just delays an inevitable withdrawal. The Congolese government itself would like the peacekeeping force to leave; it has asked the United Nations for an exit strategy.