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Africa

Martin Kobler: "UN is not Congo's enemy"

M23 rebels on Tuesday (27.08.2013) resumed attacks on the Congolese army according to local media in eastern DRC. The army, backed by a UN special brigade, is seeking to bring peace to the volatile region.

The United Nations in July deployed a 3,000-soldier intervention brigade in eastern Congo, it is the first UN force ever with a mandate to actively root out rebel groups. The new brigade bolsters the largest peacekeeping mission in the world which consists of 18,000 UN personnel and has a mandate to protect civilians. On Monday (26.08.2013), the UN mission in DRC began an investigation following the deaths of two civilians during demonstrations in Goma.

DW: What exactly happened on Saturday (24.08.2013) outside the UN base in Goma?

Martin Kobler: We had an attack by the M23 from their positions in Goma and we reacted together with the Congolese army on those positions. But of course these kinds of events trigger a lot of unrest within the population, because the population is frustrated and impatient. This attack by the M23 on densely populated areas and on MONUSCO positions triggered a lot of unrest and demonstrations, that's why these demonstrations were directed against us, because the population is of the opinion that MONUSCO is not doing enough. Unfortunately, during these demonstrations two people were killed. We have launched an investigation in coordination with the Congolese government in order to find out the details.

Is it true that the Uruguay UN peacekeepers were using live ammunition?

We are investigating this so I can't comment on that right now. I deplore the deaths of the two demonstrators and investigations are going on.

Who would be involved in the official inquiry into this incident?

The UN has a standard procedure if something like this happens. In this case it would be the UN personnel in coordination with the Congolese authorities.

Could it be that there is something wrong with the rules of engagement for MONUSCO peacekeepers?

I do not see why, because UN peacekeepers were attacked with Molotov cocktails, and the emotions went very high and the Congolese police are always around. I cannot say anything until the investigation is concluded. But if a base is attacked, the base must be defended by peacekeepers and in the primary instance by the police of the government of Congo.

Isn't it difficult for local residents to trust the UN under such circumstances?

I'm just coming from Goma, and I was present during the demonstrations. I have seen very encouraging signs from the people of Goma. We are not their enemies. The attack came from the M23 and we fought back with everything we had together with the Congolese army, with attack helicopters, with artillery and also with our foot soldiers on the side of the Congolese army against the M23. We had our own injured in this fight. We are communicating this to the population of Goma, and we had the visit of five ministers from Kinshasa to demonstrate their solidarity. The primary responsibility lies with the government of Congo. We as UN are not the magic solution to the problems of Congo, but we do everything in our power to assist the government in order to solve their problems.

Martin Kobler is the head of the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO).

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