One of Africa’s most influential leaders has launched a broadside against United Nations peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo, mocking them for being involved in “military tourism”.
The fact that thousands of blue helmets failed to stop rebels taking a key Congo town last month was “a very big shame”, Uganda’s president said.
“So many uniforms and they just sit on problems,” Yoweri Museveni said as he helped announce a new African force to quell armed groups in Congo’s east.
The United Nations mission in the country is the world’s second largest, with 19,000 soldiers, yet its troops failed to stop M23 rebels from capturing the city of Goma last month.
“It is a very big shame,” Mr Museveni continued. “It is some sort of military tourism.”
UN officials argue that they are hamstrung by their mandate, which allows them only to intervene to support Congolese army operations. That army deserted Goma as soon as the rebels approached.
Now a new contingent of 4,000 African soldiers, mostly from Tanzania, would deploy to eastern Congo within a week, officials said on Saturday.
It would patrol a buffer zone along Congo’s border with Rwanda and attempt to bring to heel both the M23 and other armed groups that have for years fought one another and terrorised the local population.
“I am confident that with the neutral international force, we can solve these problems with logistical support from the United Nations,” Mr Museveni told the Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit, held in the Tanzanian commercial capital, Dar es Salaam.
“It will help the people of Congo and neighbouring countries.”
Mr Museveni is increasingly seen as the key power-broker in east Africa. He is leading peace talks between the M23 rebels and the Congolese government, which are due to start in Kampala, the Ugandan capital, next week.
In a report on Friday, UN officials said their investigators had once again confirmed that both the M23 rebels and the notoriously ill-disciplined Congolese government troops were responsible for widespread atrocities.
Rights violations included the “killing and wounding of civilians and looting committed by M23 in Goma and surrounding areas,” said deputy UN spokesman Eduardo del Buey.
But there have also been reports that government troops raped dozens of women in the town of Minova near Goma during their retreat last month, as well as having carried out looting.