Anti-UN protests have been raging in the DRC’s eastern region since July 25, with 36 people, including four peacekeepers, killed and 170 wounded as of Wednesday, the DRC government told CNN.
Protesters are demanding the withdrawal of UN forces from the Central African country for failing to curb rebel groups in the east that are orchestrating deadly attacks on civilians.
In another shooting incident on Sunday, two UN soldiers were accused of opening fire at a border post between Uganda and the DRC, killing two people and injuring 15, a DRC government spokesman told CNN on Monday.
“Yesterday (Sunday) there was an accident on the border between Uganda and the DRC,” said DRC Communications Minister and government spokesman Patrick Muyaya.
“Some UN peacekeepers came back from vacation and when they got to the border they were told by immigration (DRC) to come back in three days…because there is a lot of pressure in the DRC right now. But they decided to break through and started shooting. Two people were killed and 15 people were injured.”
MONUSCO forces, in a statement, described the actions of their personnel involved in the shooting as “indescribable and irresponsible behavior”, adding that the officers were arrested and are under investigation.
Why are people angry?
Muya said the DRC public was disillusioned with the UN peacekeeping force for failing to secure the country.
The DRC is grappling with decades of ongoing militias violence as state forces try to rein in insurgent groups. Fighting between government forces and the M23 rebel group seeking to take control of the country from its stronghold in the east of the DRC has resulted in many deaths and thousands of internally displaced people.
“People are frustrated and tired of the UN peacekeepers in the DRC because they have been here for the last 20 years, but the security situation has not changed much,” he said.
At least 29 civilians were killed by M23 militants between June and July this year, according to Human Rights Watch.
“MONUSCO has never claimed to be a panacea for security problems in the DRC. We are working in support of the state to protect and ensure stability,” Dian wrote.
In another tweet, Dian said that MONUSCO’s lack of understanding led to “inflated expectations”.
“We need to communicate better. Many people misunderstand the UN, the Security Council and MONUSCO. This leads to excessive expectations, suspicion and forgetfulness of achievements,” he tweeted, adding that MONUSCO forces had already withdrawn from eight provinces. in the DRC.
“Every day, MONUSCO protects communities, strengthens provincial capacities, conducts investigations, separates children from armed groups, and funds projects,” Dian said, referring to the achievements of the UN forces.
Thomas Fessey, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch in the DRC, told CNN that demonstrations against the UN mission have been happening for the past decade, but they have intensified due to the endless cycle of violence in the eastern part of the DRC.
“Attacks and killings are merciless, the displacement of people is higher than ever, so people doubt the ability of MONUSCO to protect civilians and help defeat many armed groups,” Fessi added. “The frustration and anger of the Congolese at the UN mission should not be overlooked.”
A Muiyai government spokesman added that the protests were also fueled by comments made in June by MONUSCO spokesman Matthias Gillmann that UN forces lacked the equipment to deal with the M23.
“The UN representative here made a statement that the UN is not in a position to fight the M23… and explained that the M23 has advanced weapons,” Muyaya said.
Keita said such attacks could overwhelm MONUSCO.
“If M23 continues its well-coordinated attacks against FARDC (DRC armed forces) and MONUSCO with increased conventional capabilities, the Mission could face a threat that is beyond its current capabilities,” she said.
Keita added that in recent clashes, the M23s were fighting as a “regular army” and not as an armed group.
“The M23 has firepower and increasingly sophisticated equipment…as well as the accuracy of shooting at aircraft…The threat this poses to the population and the Blue Helmets (UN peacekeepers) mandated to protect is obvious.”
CNN contacted the UN mission in the DRC for further comment.
Year for the evacuation of UN troops
In 2010, the UN Security Council decided to withdraw 2,000 peacekeepers from the DRC, under pressure from then-President Joseph Kabila, who demanded the complete withdrawal of UN fighters from the country.
The DRC government under current President Felix Tshisekedi has said it is working with the UN on a plan to withdraw troops.
A Muyaya government spokesman told CNN that the government has agreed with the citizens on the complete withdrawal of UN troops from the DRC, but that it could take up to one year to evacuate all of them.
“As a government, we are on the same level as our people, but the difference is that we are working with MONUSCO on a plan for their retreat. We’ve been working on this since September last year. cooperating with them today, it will take at least six to nine months or maybe one year to make sure they leave.”
Muya added that the government is under pressure to deal with the situation quickly. However, with the UN evacuated, the DRC is expected to come under more pressure as its forces face the militia groups alone.
Muya said the DRC government is also working on security reform to create a formidable army.
“We are cooperating with MONUSCO on the transition. We are preparing them to leave, at the same time we are making sure that we have a good reform to make sure we have an army that can handle all the security problems in the country. ” he said.