The United Nations should take more action to fill the vacuum of governance that's caused Congo to fall into "absolute anarchy" since April, Canadian Senator Roméo Dallaire says.
"This has been an exercise that has simply gotten worse as we've seen less engagement by both the[UN] Security Council, and in my opinion the international community," said Dallaire, a retired lieutenant-general who led the UN mission in neighbouring Rwanda during the 1994 genocide.
Dallaire has long been critical of the international community’s failure to act on humanitarian issues, writing a damning portrayal of UN bureaucrats in his bestselling memoir Shake Hands with the Devil – The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda.
There are currently over 10,000 UN troops in the north and south Kivu provinces, located in the eastern region of Congo that's been swept up in a wave of violence caused by the M23 rebellion.
Dallaire said the UN forces are being bypassed by the key players on the ground because the Security Council hasn't given them a mandate with "the teeth" to take action and "establish an atmosphere of security."
Under a new Chapter VII mandate, UN troops could be a "forceful paramilitary" unit, which would mean "establishing roadblocks, establishing secure sites, guarantee the security of the different displaced camps in the area, and taking control of the radio" as well as helping to facilitate negotiations between the rebels and Congolese government.
Government troops return to Goma
On Monday, Congolese government troops entered the eastern provincial capital of Goma for the first time in nearly two weeks after the city was easily taken Nov. 20 by M23 rebel forces.
The rebel force originated from soldiers who defected from a Congolese militia eight months ago and claim to be fighting for a better implementation of a March 23, 2009, peace accord that would have integrated them into the national army.
The UN Group of Experts has accused Uganda and Rwanda of fuelling the rebellion by propping up the M23 with arms and weapons, and said Rwanda, in particular, has a desire to annex the territory between it and Congo because of resources.
As part of the regional peace deal issued last month by nations partner to the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, the rebel forces agreed to withdraw to 20 kilometres beyond Goma’s city limits, but by late Monday afternoon had set up camp much closer, on the tactical foothills overlooking the area.
In recent weeks the jungle nation of Congo, whose capital in Kinshasa is 1,500 kilometres away from the fighting, has inched slowly closer toward civil war.
Dallaire said the central government needs to find a solution that recognizes the potential of the mineral-rich east for any lasting peace deal to work.
"Until we have assessed truly what the Congo wishes to do with the region, instead of letting it fester the way it is, it is very difficult for people to guess what's going to happen," Dallaire said. "It can't continue in this vacuum of political structure that is creating and permitting the anarchy to carry on."
'Until we have assessed truly what the Congo wishes to do with the region, instead of letting it fester the way it is, it is very difficult for people to guess what's going to happen.' —Senator Roméo Dallaire
The M23 rebels had vowed to take full control of the country if the Congolese government didn’t meet their demands, but backed down from the threat after rebel military commander Sultani Makenga met with President Joseph Kabila in Uganda last week.
Despite the rebels' retreat from Goma, which was a prerequisite set by the Congolese government for any negotiations, Kabila has not made clear if the government will follow through with the talks.
Congo's Interior Minister Richard Muyej, speaking to reporters in Goma, said they were working hard to fill the power vacuum that was left by the rebels' departure.
"We shall work very hard to re-establish the authority of the state as fast as possible," he said.
Human rights abuses reported to UN
In the wake of the mass fighting, hundreds of thousands of people, many of them children, picked up whatever belongings they could carry and fled from Goma to displacement camps.
In a statement released by the UN on Monday, the organization called the humanitarian situation in the country "extremely worrying" and said they've received reports of targeted summary executions, widespread recruitment and use of children, and other serious human rights abuses.
As the founder of the Child Soldiers Initiative, a think tank housed at Dalhousie University, Dallaire said he was particularly concerned about the 200,000 children in eastern Congo at risk of being forced into violence.
"The youth of that region are not youth looking for a fight but are youth being pulled into a fight."