Rebel siege: In the Congo, United Nations forces are ineffective

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Congolese rebels, probably backed by Rwanda, took control Tuesday of Goma, a provincial capital in the Democratic Republic of the Congo -- a capture that, surprisingly, was not prevented by either government troops or the 20,000 United Nations peacekeepers in the country.

The rebel group calls itself M23 and is composed mainly of members of the Tutsi ethnic group which rules Rwanda, some of whom are also found in the Congo.

Since 1999 the United Nations Security Council has financed in the DRC a stabilization force composed of soldiers from mostly South Asian countries, the largest such U.N. force in the world. Called MONUSCO, it has cost about $10 billion. Its objective is to maintain security, much like U.S. forces in Afghanistan, while the central government consolidates its authority and builds up its own armed forces.

It would seem that one mission of the U.N. force is to keep rebels from taking control of Goma, a city of more than 300,000 near the border with Rwanda. Goma has massive humanitarian problems, which began when 1.5 million Hutu refugees fled neighboring Rwanda in 1994 after some of them had carried out genocidal attacks on Rwanda's Tutsis and some moderate Hutus as well. The Hutu refugees and the efforts by Rwandan and Congolese Tutsis to contain the threat they present to Tutsi minority rule in Rwanda have been at the root of the steady warfare that has occurred in the region since 1994.

The U.N. force should be large enough and sufficiently armed to deal with the rebels. Yet even with helicopter gunships and armored vehicles at their disposal, the international troops stood by as the M23 rebels walked into Goma, triggering the flight of more refugees. It is hard to understand why.

This problem needs urgent U.N. action, bolstered by big-power attention. Given the many victims of the conflict and its 18-year duration, it's time that the right pressure be applied from the outside to reduce the violence and alleviate the suffering.



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