Sunday, May 18, 2003

UN Military Observers Missing

The continuing saga of UN efforts to stop the massacres in the Democratic Republic of Congo begins with a classic paragraph:

"The United Nations appealed to church leaders in northeastern Congo on Saturday to help find two missing agency military observers, after a cease-fire aimed at ending several days of tribal fighting in the area took hold."

The ceasefire, apparently, may also have taken hold of the Blue Helmets, on whom the hopes of controlling civil unrest repose. While the Congolese churchmen search for the missing elite United Nations troopers, the safety of the embattled civilians is rapidly being assured as:

"... U.N. troops tore down rows of barbed wire surrounding an agency compound where thousands of frightened residents have taken refuge during the fighting."

Maybe this is premature. Other news sources, like the Guardian, have painted a less optimistic picture of the area surrounding the UN compound. In a news story datelined the same day, the Guardian reported that:

"Occasional gunshots, groaning wounded and the shrieks of hungry children seeking safety in a besieged UN compound expressed the horror of Bunia yesterday.

Around 12,000 terrified civilians were huddling against the wire perimeters of the two UN barracks in the town in eastern Congo, building makeshift camps under the machine guns of 700 Uruguayan peacekeepers.

Since at least 100,000 civilians having already fled, the town is practically deserted. There is no reliable estimate of the death toll from the intertribal conflict in the town but throughout yesterday bodies and mutilated wounded trickled into a makeshift clinic built against the wire.

The remains of 10 decapitated militiamen, their hands tied, arrived first. Two policemen were later found later, executed by the fighters of the Hema tribe who seized Bunia from the Lendu on Monday.

"Maybe we've seen a hundred bodies, maybe more. But most are still lying in their homes," said Claude Idringi, head of nursing in the clinic."

One of the rebel groups with whom the UN has been trying to broker a ceasefire is the Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC). It has rampaged not only through the Congo, but has:

"... also been accused of committing atrocities in the DR Congo's northern neighbor, the Central African Republic, where they were sent in October last year to prop up the then president Ange-Felix Patasse after a bid to oust him."

The MLC has been accused of engaging in cannibalism, usually committed as part of the regular campaign of looting and rape. Let's hope the Congolese churchmen find the missing UN Peacekeepers.