KINSHASA (Reuters) - The U.N. peacekeeping force in Democratic Republic of Congo must revamp its strategy for protecting civilians, because existing tactics were having little lasting effect, according to an internal mission document seen by Reuters on Tuesday.
The briefing, dated September 7, said the strategy resulted in an illusion of protection rather than real security, putting pressure on the United Nations’ biggest peacekeeping mission that has been dogged by criticism since its launch 13 years ago.
Inaction by the U.N. force when rebels seized the eastern city of Goma in November led to the creation in March of a new brigade with an unprecedented mandate to confront and disarm armed groups in Congo’s restive eastern provinces.
This force, made up of South African, Tanzanian and Malawian soldiers, has since helped Congo’s army drive rebels away from Goma in heavy fighting.
However, the briefing provides a rare, detailed critique of the broader 18,500-strong, $1.5 billion-a-year mission, which many Congolese complain has failed to protect civilians from a plethora of armed groups roaming the east.
The document says U.N. operating bases are poorly situated, allowing for only short range patrols and limited civilian protection by the force, known as MONUSCO.
“Protection by presence is not effective,” it says. “MONUSCO is delivering false reassurance - maintaining the illusion of protection - through static presence and consuming significant resources to little enduring effect.”
The briefing calls on soldiers to use their rules of engagement to the fullest extent and retake the initiative on the ground, where their movements are sometimes curtailed by armed groups.
Citing instructions from General Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz, the U.N.’s force commander in Congo, the document says MONUSCO must review its operations and “orient the force towards defeating emerging threats”.
Dos Santos Cruz, a Brazilian who previously commanded the U.N. mission in Haiti, has been credited with pushing the force to be more pro-active since he took over in May.
While the newly created Intervention Brigade explicitly calls on U.N. troops to go on the offensive, the mission has long operated under a Chapter 7 mandate, which allows peacekeepers to use deadly force to protect civilians.
However, some countries contributing soldiers to the force are more reluctant than others to see their troops go on the offensive in a U.N. mission.
Editing by David Lewis and Mike Collett-White