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In Congo, Peace Eludes Its U.N. Keepers

An internal U.N. report issued this week condemned the peacekeepers for their performance during an attack last May in the strategically important city of Bukavu, where a renegade faction of the army briefly took over despite the presence of the U.N. forces. The report said the blue helmets ignored orders from headquarters to intervene and "failed the Congolese people." More than 100 Congolese were killed in the crisis.

But complications can arise even when the peacekeepers attempt to fight back.


A U.N. peacekeeper guards a refugee camp in Tche, Congo. The 16,000-member force is regarded as the most troubled U.N. peacekeeping mission. (Emily Wax -- The Washington Post)

Last month, nine Bangladeshi peacekeepers were ambushed while trying to protect families. A week later, peacekeepers raided a militia camp in the same area, killing 50 militiamen in a gun battle.

Soon after, Congolese citizens demanded an apology from the peacekeepers, accusing them of killing children during the raid. But the peacekeepers said that many children serve as fighters, armed with AK-47s and other weapons.

"There were children among the militia," said Col. Mahmoud Hussein, a Bangladeshi who is deputy brigade commander of the Ituri region. "This is the reality here on the ground."

Congo's central government, operating more than 1,000 miles away in Kinshasa, the capital, has little if any control over the eastern part of the country. A new unity government and the national army are made up of former rebels, many still clinging to their old loyalties. The national soldiers have only recently begun to appear in the eastern region.

"There is absolutely no administration in the area. There are no government officials," said Hussein, the Bangladeshi colonel. "There are no government officials in the custom checkpoints. All the goods that are coming in have dues that are being collected by the militia people, and they are distributing it amongst themselves."

Chori Dheda, a tiny 12-year-old carrying her baby sister on her back, was one of the villagers who arrived at the camp near Hassan's base. Her right cheek was slashed by a machete during the attack on her village, she said, and a dirty white bandage was taped to her face.

There are no telephones or mobile phone networks for miles near the village, and Chori and the other survivors of the attack had to walk two days to arrive at the base.

There are frequent reports of women being kidnapped and raped in Ituri, and hospitals are filled with children wounded by machetes.

But without the peacekeepers in the area, the situation "would be so much worse," said Congolese army Maj. Jean Peire Angia, 47, who was recently dispatched to Bunia. "We can't do it ourselves. It's not possible yet."


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