UN denies its peacekeepers failed Congo civilians


Published on 04/02/2009

UNITED NATIONS, Thursday

The United Nations rejected as “totally unfounded” accusations by a prominent charity on Wednesday that its peacekeepers in Congo failed to protect civilians from attacks by Ugandan rebels.

Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said the UN mission had shown inaction to protect people against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels. Around 900 civilians have been massacred in Congo’s remote northeast since the LRA began attacks in reprisal for an international offensive in December.

“MSF’s charge of ‘inaction’ … is totally unfounded,” UN spokeswoman Marie Okabe told reporters. The UN force, known as Monuc, “provided the maximum support to the (Congo) government to deal with this situation,” she said.

Primary responsibility for protecting civilians lay with the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which Monuc is mandated to support, Okabe said.

UN forces transported Congolese troops to localities in the region to protect the population, carried out aerial reconnaissance to support army deployments, and in one area, conducted “combat air patrols” in support of the army, she said.

The UN mission also flew humanitarian teams to the region and evacuated many sick Congolese civilians affected by LRA attacks, she added.

There are 17,000 UN peacekeepers in Congo, but UN officials have often said they are thinly stretched over a country the size of western Europe.

“Despite the overstretch already facing the mission, Monuc continues to take every possible action to enhance protection for the population affected by the LRA attacks and to facilitate humanitarian access,” Okabe said. (Reuters)

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