Mr. Swing and Britain

A Scary Pair

Private Roze, accused of atrocities against civilians in Ituri, awaits trial by members of her own militia (Photo: Marco Longari/AFP-Getty Images).

The multinational peacekeeping force for Ituri has become a reality as a result of the passage of United Nations Resolution 1484, proposed by France. With each passing day, concrete actions are taken to make the force effective. Witness the meeting organized by France this past weekend at the U.N. headquarters in New York. It was the first time we’d seen such a mobilization on behalf of Congo since the war’s beginning in 1998. And yet, the stage was set long ago, with various massacres, for the international community to wake up and intervene. Indeed, Congo has seen worse, or at least as bad, as what’s happening in Ituri now.

In Kisangani, for example, Rwandan and Ugandan troops battled with heavy artillery right in the middle of town, killing many civilians. The international community issued statements condemning these actions but didn’t go much further than that. No country dared step forward to re-establish security in Kisangani, not even to ensure that the U.N. order to demilitarize the city was carried out. The Congolese people were quick to understand that nobody wanted to go up against the outside powers that were backing Kigali and Kampala in Kisangani.

It’s the same story with the massacres in the Ituri region, which have been going on for some time. At the height of the war, Bunia and the surrounding area were the theater of massacres that took place with Kampala’s blessing. Back then, you couldn’t raise the possibility of intervention by the international community without expecting a categorical “no” from the outside powers under whose umbrella Rwanda and Uganda were operating.

Now that a number of international agreements have been signed, those who once protected Congo’s aggressors have no further pretext to support the massacres carried out by their protégés on Congolese territory. For a time in Kisangani, the international community soothed its conscience with the presence of the U.N. Mission to Congo, known by its French acronym of MONUC. But the U.N. mission suffered so many setbacks that it couldn’t avoid looking ridiculous. Bunia, though, was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Those who believed in MONUC, or who exploited its presence to keep the international community’s nose out of the massacres, grasped that it was time to take a different tack. Now, there’s a rush to get involved in Ituri, which is becoming something of a peace table for Europe after the deep intra-European divisions caused by the war in Iraq. This enthusiasm over Ituri is a bit rich for the Congolese people.

They’re concerned about British participation in the peacekeeping force, whose arrival in Congo will coincide with that of Mr. Swing as the new director of MONUC. [U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has named William L. Swing, a former U.S. ambassador to five African countries, as his special representative to Congo effective July 1. —WPR]

Britain, too, is sending a fact-finding mission to Congo this week. Certain quarters would have preferred that the kingdom of the queen content itself with using the information collected by the recent French mission. When you’ve been bitten by a snake, you’re leery of a lizard. What’s more, Britain is hardly a lizard. For the Congolese people, it’s the same snake that already bit them. So now we’re fearful of the specter of this U.S.-British pair blindly supporting Rwanda and Uganda. Is our fear justified in the current environment? Anything can happen. It’s a matter of “wait and see.”