Congolese rebels, probably backed by Rwanda, recently took control of Goma, a provincial capital in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. That capture was not prevented by government troops or the 20,000 United Nations peacekeepers in the country.
The rebel group is composed mainly of members of the Tutsi ethnic group that rules Rwanda. Some Tutsis are also found in the Congo.
Since 1999, the United Nations Security Council has financed a stabilization force in the Congo, mostly composed of soldiers from South Asian countries. The largest such U.N. force in the world, it has cost about $10 billion. Its objective is to maintain security while the central government consolidates its authority and builds up its own armed forces.
Goma, a city of as many as a million people near the border with Rwanda, has massive humanitarian problems. They began when 1.5 million Hutu refugees fled neighboring Rwanda in 1994 after some of them carried out genocidal attacks on Rwanda’s Tutsis and some moderate Hutus.
The Hutu refugees, and the efforts by Rwandan and Congolese Tutsis to contain the threat they present to Tutsi minority rule in Rwanda, have been at the root of the steady warfare that has occurred in the region since 1994.
The U.N. force should be large enough and sufficiently armed to deal with the rebels. Yet even with helicopter gunships and armored vehicles at their disposal, the international troops stood by as the rebels walked into Goma, triggering the flight of more refugees.
This problem needs urgent U.N. action. Given the many victims of the conflict, and the fact that it has continued for 18 years, pressure must be applied to reduce the violence and alleviate the suffering.