United Nations armored personnel carriers roll past refugees escaping the fighting in East Congo, late 2008
A 25,000 soldier United Nations force attempting to smash Hutu rebels in the Congo has suffered a major defeat:
The massive UN peacekeeping effort in eastern Congo has failed to deliver a knockout blow to Rwandan rebels while local insurgents have seized new territory under its nose, United Nations experts said today.
Far from resolving the root causes of the violence, the presence of the world's biggest peacekeeping mission has aggravated the conflict in North and South Kivu provinces, the report seen by Reuters today.
"Military operations have not succeeded in neutralising the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda), have exacerbated the humanitarian crisis in the Kivus and have resulted in an expansion of CNDP military influence in the region," the group said, referring to Congolese Tutsi CNDP insurgents.
Congo's army, backed by the 25 000-strong UN force, launched an offensive against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda earlier this year as part of a deal to improve ties with neighbouring Rwanda, its enemy during a 1998-2003 war.
In return for Congo's pledges to stamp out the Hutu rebels, some of whom helped orchestrate Rwanda's 1994 genocide, Kigali arrested General Laurent Nkunda, whose CNDP insurgents were then integrated into the army.
While the UN Security Council has twice voted to continue peacekeeper support for the operations, rights groups and aid agencies have decried the displacement of more than a million villagers, thousands of rapes, and hundreds of killings.
Despite the surrender of more than 1200 of its estimated 6000-to-8000 fighters, the FDLR continues to replenish its ranks through the active recruitment of both Congolese and Rwandan Hutus, the group said.
The rebels benefit from support networks in Africa, Europe and North America, as well as financing from its control of the east's lucrative tin deposits despite the army's efforts to push them out of mining areas.
"The Group calculates that the FDLR could earn at least several hundred thousand dollars and up to a few million dollars a year from this trade," said the report, which is due to be discussed by the Security Council today.
Well that's not good news, to say the least. It's not exactly unsurprising when a local rebellion defeats a third world army, but a 25,000-strong UN force is something else. The most interesting aspect of this is that while the FDLR is based upon a very local ethnic grievance, it still manages to have a global support network.
Something big has changed in warfare when a group doesn't even have to sign on with a worldwide ideology or superpower to get enough support to defeat a UN offensive. The peacekeeping mission would seem to be on the wrong side of the Guerrilla Problem; they're fighting a grievance, not a military force. As long as there are aggrieved Hutus (or Tutsis, for that matter), the guerrilla groups will be able to replenish their manpower. When raising an army is that cheap, it becomes far easier for a small rebel force with an economic racket to stand toe to toe with a much larger power. UN Peacekeepers are, after all, quite expensive.
Rwanda has somewhat successfully dealt with similar groups through a combination of generous amnesty and quick military strikes at the refugee camps where the FDLR and their allies are based. While that strategy is far from perfect, it has played a role in Rwanda's impressive recovery. The amnesty — and the subsequent push to get ex-fighters into civilian life — does grasp that to stop the guerrillas you have to end the grievance.