UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has strongly condemned the fatal attack on peacekeepers serving in the United Nations mission in Congo that killed two Indian police and one Moroccan military personnel and injured an Egyptian police official.
Guterres expressed his deepest condolences to the families of the fallen peacekeepers, who were serving in the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), as well as to the government and the people of India and of Morocco.
He wished a speedy recovery to the injured peacekeeper, a statement issued here Tuesday by his deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq said.
In a tweet, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said he was "deeply grieved at the loss of lives of two valiant Indian peacekeepers of the Border Security Force in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The perpetrators of these outrageous attacks must be held accountable and brought to justice. Deepest condolences to the bereaved families, Jaishankar said on Tuesday.
The statement issued by the UN chief's spokesperson said Guterres strongly condemns the fatal July 26 attack on peacekeepers serving in MONUSCO in Butembo, North Kivu province.
Two Indian police personnel and one Moroccan military personnel were killed and one Egyptian police personnel was injured during a violent demonstration at the Mission's base, the statement said.
India's Border Security Force (BSF) on Tuesday confirmed the death of two of its personnel in the attack in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The UN chief underscored that any attack directed against United Nations peacekeepers may constitute a war crime and called upon the Congolese authorities to investigate these incidents and swiftly bring those responsible to justice.
India second highest military contributor
As of November 2021, India was the second highest military contributor to MONUSCO with 1,888 troops and the fifth highest police contributor with 139 personnel. The mission has a total of over 17,700 personnel.
Earlier at the daily press briefing on Tuesday, Haq said violence against the UN peacekeeping mission MONUSCO was continuing to escalate .
He said that at the MONUSCO Butembo base, violent attackers snatched weapons from Congolese police and fired upon our uniformed personnel. Sadly, one military peacekeeper and two UN police personnel were killed and another was injured.
Haq said Guterres adds his voice to MONUSCO's Acting Head Khassim Diagne to condemn the killing of our colleagues and to express our deepest sympathy to their families and colleagues.
In response to a question by PTI on the killing of the two Indian peacekeepers, Haq said, it's very clear that this is something that should not have happened. It's an unacceptable action, and we condemn the killing of our colleagues.
We do express our deepest sympathies to their families and colleagues and, of course, we will send our sympathies as well to the Government of India for this. I believe we've been in touch with the Indian mission on the two fallen peacekeepers, Haq said.
India calls for Security Council meeting
India called for a Security Council meeting on the situation under Any Other Business'. Sources said a UNSC press statement could be issued on the situation. Diagne tweeted that MONUSCO is heartbroken" by the death of three colleagues killed in action.
"We salute their courage & sacrifice. We are also saddened by the deaths of protesters. I reiterate the Mission is in the DRC at the Govt's invitation to help protect civilians & promote stability."
Guterres also strongly condemned violence targeting multiple UN bases across North Kivu province since July 25, in which individuals and groups forcibly entered bases and engaged in looting and destruction of UN property, while also looting and setting fire to the residences of United Nations personnel.
The Secretary-General regrets the loss of life of demonstrators in this context and affirms MONUSCO's commitment to work with the Congolese authorities to investigate these incidents, Haq said.
Guterres recalled the Status of Forces agreement concluded between the United Nations and the Congolese government, which guarantees the inviolability of United Nations premises.
Congolese Government condemns the violence
The Secretary-General welcomed the statement of the Spokesperson of the Congolese Government, issued on Monday, which condemned the violence and indicated that the perpetrators will be prosecuted.
The Secretary-General reaffirms the United Nations' strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haq said.
Guterres also reaffirmed that the United Nations, through his Special Representative in Congo and its Mission mandated by the Security Council, will continue to support the Congolese government and people in their efforts to bring about peace and stability in the east of the country.
Haq told reporters that Acting Head of MONUSCO Khassim Diagne has described the violence against the UN as absolutely unacceptable and counterproductive, given that the Mission is in the country to work alongside local authorities to protect civilians, deter armed groups, and build the capacity of state institutions and services.
Diagne called on Congolese authorities, civil society, and community groups to denounce the violence.
It is not in chaos and confusion or division that we will make progress towards stability and peace, Diagne said.
Attack directed against UN peacekeepers
Haq said at least four incidents have targeted MONUSCO staff residences and other staff has now been relocated to camps. Earlier Tuesday, a mob tried to enter the premises of the United Nations Development Programme compound in Goma but were repelled by security guards.
Hundreds of assailants have attacked UN bases in Goma as well as other parts of North Kivu province, fueled by hostile remarks and threats made by individuals and groups against the UN, particularly on social media, Haq said.
Mobs are throwing stones and petrol bombs, breaking into bases, looting and vandalising, and setting facilities on fire.
The situation is very volatile, and reinforcements are being mobilized. Our quick reaction forces are on high alert and have been advised to exercise maximum restraint, using tear gas to disperse protestors and only firing warning shots when UN personnel or property are under attack. Some assistance to protect facilities is being received from the Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC), he said.
What led to the start of the violence?
In response to a question, Haq pointed out that one of the factors involved in the start of the violence is that there has been a campaign of disinformation and misinformation against the UN.
There have been things which we know to be false that have been spread, so we're trying our best to get to the truth about this, he said.
Obviously, if there's any responsibility by UN forces for any of the injuries or any of the deaths, we will follow up on that, but yes, we do first need to get to the truth of what's happening on the ground, he said, adding that all peacekeepers have been instructed to exercise the utmost restraint.
To a question that the demonstrations were called by a faction of the ruling party's youth wing that accuses MONUSCO of failing to protect civilians against militia violence, Haq said the UN has been doing its utmost for decades to try to bring stability to Eastern Congo, a place where there are many different armed factions.
There are times when some of those factions had ceased their activities, others rose up, he said.
The UN has maintained forces to make sure that it can provide as much security to the Eastern Congo as can possibly be provided, he said.
MONUSCO and its predecessor forces have sustained significant casualties over the years trying to achieve that. Our commitment to the Democratic Republic of the Congo is a long and solid record, he said
We have stayed because the situation on the ground is far too dangerous for us to contemplate leaving and putting that many people at risk. The fact is our presence has provided protection, but it has not solved the problem, because the problem is a much larger one; it's a problem affecting not just Eastern Congo, but the region as a whole, with different groups vying for control of territory, control of resources, Haq said.
This is something that needs a much wider solution, but we have been doing our best within that to make sure that people's lives, people's basic freedoms are not taken away, he said.