DRC: "We are keeping the pressure on them"

Interview by Michel Smitall / MONUC
30 dec. 05 - 10.02h - The joint offensive of the Congolese army (FARDC) supported by a MONUC contingent that began on 24 December 2005 has aggressively taken on the militias in the Eastern DR Congo. All known ADF/ NALU* camps have been dismantled. General Patrick Cammaert, MONUC Eastern Division Commander for the volatile region, explains the way forward.

General Cammaert, what are the results of the ongoing offensive in the East?

The joint offensive conducted by the Congolese army and MONUC forces has engaged the ADF in several camps, 15 ADF camps have been attacked and destroyed. The operation was carried out together with the FARDC forces. We were involved with 600 MONUC forces, the Indian brigade and helicopter forces. The FARDC had 3,500 troops. These operations were undertaken over Christmas and have come to an end.

During the operations we lost one Indian Corporal and we sustained a number of wounded soldiers. The FARDC also sustained a number of casualties. The ADF have retreated to the East and to the mountains. Overall, the offensive was quite successful and underlined the importance of the joint operations with the FARDC.

The logistics of the FARDC remains a problem. MONUC provided them with supplemental support, and we also did medical evacuations. We had trained FARDC troops quite extensively before we launched this operation. An extensive sensitization program is also being carried out.

This was one operation in the Grand Nord Kivu. Then we had other operations last week in the Mahagi area in Ituri against the negative forces of Peter Karim. Again, that was a joint operation with FARDC, the Indian brigade, the Nepalese battalion in particular, and our helicopters. At the same time we launched a joint operation with the FARDC in the South Boga area, the last operation that is still ongoing.

The operations will continue?

In the Mahagi area we have now terminated the operations. However, the FARDC are still in the pursuit of certain elements of Peter Karim. So it cannot be excluded that MONUC will again be involved in follow-up operations in both areas of Ituri.

The operations will continue. There is no end state as such. The end state is when we have arrested Peter Karim and when his forces will have surrendered and joined the DDR program.

How many rebels on the ground have been neutralized?

It is always difficult to say how many people exactly were killed and wounded. In many cases, the militias and ex-militias are taking their killed-in-action and wounded with them. We saw in the area of Nioka a quite large number of dead bodies. The losses of the opponents are quite severe. We are keeping the momentum -- keeping the pressure on them is important. I talked to the brigade commanders of the FARDC and I advised them on future operations and made some changes in plans.

If you look at the terrain, it is easy to slip away from the battlefield. In the Mahagi area, there is also the opportunity of slipping over to Uganda. That will always be the case and it means we have to be vigilant. We have to be alert that any counter-attack or any infiltration is being dealt with.

How did civilians in the area react to the attacks?

The population was prepared, but that does not mean one does not have internally displaced people (IPDs). Even before the operation started, some of the local populations fled their homes and properties in order to make sure they were not caught in the crossfire. In North Kivu, I am very pleased to see that the number of IDPs is limited. I spoke to Human Rights people, various agencies, «Médecins sans Frontières», WFP. At a de-brief at the North Kivu brigade headquarters, yesterday, these entities reported that, yes, there are IDPs, but not in the numbers that they cannot be dealt with. We must make sure that as soon as we have a clear signal that the areas are safe, those people will go home.

Have FARDC troops perpetrated any abuse against civilians?

We have no indications of maltreatment of the local population. There have been complaints from the local population over the past two months that there is an increase in harassment and looting by some of the units of the FARDC. I discussed this with their leadership in North Kivu and Ituri and the commanders will eliminate such behavior as much as possible. It comes back to the old story of the lack of payment, lack of food and water, equipment, the lack of so many things, mostly the lack of training.

The FARDC units are coming straight out of 'brassage' and are moved straight into the battlefield. The background of many of these soldiers is a one of violence. We can only solve this problem by making sure that soldiers are trained, so that there is a bond, that discipline is established in those units. At this moment, this is not the case, which is problematic, and the FARDC have to deal with that. We will report, name and shame units, commanders and soldiers who are misbehaving so the FARDC can take action immediately towards these people.

Looking ahead, may some of the armed groups still constitute a danger during the upcoming elections?

There will be a secure environment for the elections. I was very pleased to see the number of people who took part in the referendum, in particular in the Eastern Division area of responsibility. The military component has a tremendous job in making sure that we are patrolling as much as possible. The local population has much appreciated that and felt secure and went to the polling stations to vote for the referendum. I have no doubt this will be the case again in the upcoming elections. In the coming months we must make sure that we put as much pressure on those armed groups as possible and that we can deal with them. I am optimistic the elections will be a great success.

* ADF / NALU: Allied Democratic Forces / National Army for the Liberation of Uganda.