UN supremo urges Congo to reverse 'collapse'

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The Independent Online

United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon urged Congo's government to get control of its troops in the African nation's conflict-wracked east and help beleaguered peacekeepers protect thousands of civilians.

Speaking in the Philippines, Mr Ban blamed a "collapse in discipline" in units of Congo's armed forces for the escalating looting and attacks on UN and associated staff in North Kivu, a province where the situation has deteriorated over the past several days.

Ban's terse statement reflected a sense at the United Nations that it needs to quickly address the plight of a growing number of civilians frustrated at the UN peacekeepers' inability to protect them.

Actor George Clooney, who was appointed by Mr Ban in January as a UN Messenger of Peace with a special focus on peacekeeping, urged nations to do more to help bring peace to Congo.

"The recent events in Congo are deeply concerning, as is the international community's failure to engage in sustained, robust diplomacy to address the deadly and deteriorating conflict," the actor said in a statement early today.

"In the absence of sustained attempts at peacemaking, United Nations peacekeepers have, once again, been thrust into the lead."

Clooney, who spent two weeks travelling to Congo, Darfur and other African conflict zones, recalled meeting with the Indian brigade in North Kivu in January.

"We saw the incredibly important and tough work they are doing every day," he said. "The Congo is the site of the deadliest war since the Holocaust. It is time for the world to pay attention."

Mr Ban called on Congo's government to "spare no effort establishing control over its forces" and stopping attacks on the UN peacekeeping mission. He said UN peacekeepers were "doing everything possible to protect civilians and fulfil their mandate in untenable circumstances".

The UN Security Council met late last night and unanimously condemned the offensive by rebel leader Laurent Nkunda and "demands that it bring its operations to an end".

The 15-nation council said any attack on civilians was "totally unacceptable" and called on Congo and Rwanda to restore stability in the region.

Some Congolese are furious at the peacekeeping force's failure to halt the rebellion, attacking UN compounds in Goma with rocks this week.

On Tuesday, Mr Ban's top envoy in Congo, Alan Doss, said the peacekeeping mission - whose troops have been stoned by mobs in North Kivu's capital of Goma and the outlying town of Rutshuru - was stretched to the limit from the latest fighting.

Fewer than 6,000 of the 17,000 UN peacekeepers in Congo are deployed in North Kivu because of unrest elsewhere in the east, Mr Doss said.

Mr Ban said he "deplores the apparent targeting" of UN peacekeepers at Kibumba, site of a major camp for fleeing civilians, and was alarmed at both the escalating violence in North Kivu and the reported exchange of heavy weapons fire across the Congo-Rwanda border.

He said the escalating conflict was "creating a humanitarian crisis of catastrophic dimensions and threatens dire consequences on a regional scale".

He joined the security council in calling for an immediate ceasefire and said he "deplores the use of civilians as human shields and their deliberate targeting".