UN soldiers kill two civilians in eastern Congo | International

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Soldiers from the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Monusco) shot dead two civilians at a border post with Uganda in the east of the country on Sunday, according to authorities. The incident occurs in the midst of a wide wave of citizen demonstrations, which have caused at least 15 deaths, including four blue helmets, and dozens of injuries, against the presence of this military force, which is accused of inaction against crimes committed by armed groups active in the area. This Monday new protests have broken out in the city of Beni.

The events took place at the Kasindi border checkpoint, when Monusco soldiers were returning to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) after enjoying a permit in neighboring Uganda. When the barrier was closed and after a verbal exchange with Congolese police, the blue helmets opened fire and entered the Congo by force, according to Monusco, which caused the death of two civilians and injured some 15 people. “Soldiers from the Monusco Intervention Brigade opened fire at the border post for inexplicable reasons,” confirms a statement from the peacekeeping mission itself, whose head, Bintou Keita, said he felt “deeply shocked and dismayed by this serious incident.”

“Faced with this unspeakable and irresponsible behavior, the perpetrators of the shooting have been identified and detained pending the conclusions of the investigation that has already been launched in collaboration with the Congolese authorities,” the UN statement continues. “Contacts have already been made with the countries of origin of these soldiers so that an urgent judicial procedure can begin with the participation of victims and witnesses so that exemplary sanctions are adopted as soon as possible,” he adds. The Secretary General of the United Nations, António Guterres, claimed to feel “outraged” by the events and showed his support for the arrest of the soldiers involved and the investigation opened by Monusco, according to a statement from his office.

The murder of these two people occurs in a context of special tension against the presence of Monusco in the east of the DRC. Throughout the past week, thousands of people demonstrated in various cities in the area, such as Goma and Butembo (in North Kivu province) and Uvira (in South Kivu), to demand their departure from the country. These protests led to the looting and looting of UN facilities in Goma and were violently repressed by the Congolese security and military forces, resulting in the death of at least 15 people, including four members of Monusco itself, and dozens of wounded. The protests broke out again this Monday in the city of Beni, where the police used tear gas and shots in the air to disperse the crowd that gathered around the United Nations base to demand its withdrawal.

The protesters, mostly young people and members of citizen groups, denounce that Monusco has sufficient means to put an end to the violence carried out by armed groups in this area for decades, which has intensified in recent years, but does not intervene . Monusco, with some 20,000 troops today, has been present in eastern Congo since 1999 in the midst of a complex conflict with the presence of rebels and local armed groups and those from neighboring countries, Rwanda and Uganda.

The Deputy Secretary General for UN peacekeeping missions, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, traveled this weekend to Kinshasa, the capital of the DRC, where he met with the authorities to try to calm things down. In addition, this Monday he participated in a tribute to the four blue helmets who died during the protests, as well as another who died accidentally last week, in the city of Butembo. For his part, the Congolese president, Félix Tshisekedi, assured during a council of ministers held last Saturday that there is a plan for the gradual withdrawal of Monusco that will culminate in 2024.

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Several UN missions in Africa are going through a particularly tense moment due to the rejection of the population or the authorities. In addition to the crisis in Congo, the Government of Mali ordered three weeks ago to interrupt all rotations of Minusma personnel after detaining 49 Ivorian blue helmets at the Bamako airport, whom it accuses of participating in an alleged plot to destabilize the country. Days later, the authorities ordered the expulsion of the UN spokesman in Mali, Olivier Salgado, for assuring that the entry of said soldiers with weapons and ammunition had been communicated to the Executive, contradicting the government version.

A part of public opinion has shown its support in local media and social networks for this decision, accusing the UN of having a hidden agenda and responding to the interests of France, a country with which Mali is in a confrontation over withdrawal. of its troops from the country before the arrival of Russian mercenaries from the Wagner group at the end of 2021. This Sunday, the Malian military junta in power accused the French president, Emmanuel Macron, of fomenting ethnic hatred and the division of Mali, in a new twist to the confrontation between the two countries.

The UN mission in the Central African Republic (Minusca), active since 2014 with some 10,000 troops, is also the subject of constant tensions. Last February, four French members of this mission were arrested by the police, accused of participating in a plot to assassinate the president, Faustin Archange Touaderá, and released after the intervention of António Guterres. In November 2021, members of the Presidential Guard shot at unarmed peacekeepers, injuring ten of them.

In recent years, complaints of alleged sexual abuse against members of United Nations peacekeeping missions have increased around the world, but 90% of them are concentrated in two operations, those in the DRC and the Central African Republic, according to a UN report made public last March. In the latter country, Gabonese and Mauritanian soldiers involved in these abuses, which were sometimes committed against girls, have been expelled from the country after the corresponding investigation. French soldiers were also accused. In 2015, the head of the Minusca was dismissed by the then Secretary General of the UN, Ban Ki-moon, after a wave of complaints of sexual abuse.

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