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The UN peacekeepers – the Blue Berets - form one of the largest, best equipped and international forces in the world.
Yet no other army anywhere has suffered quite the same hostility or accusations of corruption and incompetence.
The UN first came to the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1960, soon after the country won its independence and the new government asked for the world body's help in restoring order and protecting Congo from outside interference.
The organisation's history is strewn with examples of its inability to keep the peace in places such as Srebrenica in Bosnia and Darfur.
In Rwanda, the UN stood aside as Hutu forces used their machetes and guns on 800,000 Tutsi civilians in 1994.
Currently there are UN peacekeeping operations running in 16 different locations, throughout five continents from Haiti to Timor and 120 countries contribute 100,000 troops who are paid out of the UN’s annual budget of $7.1 billion.
Costing more than one billion dollars and known as Monuc, Congo is the organisation’s most expensive mission.
The country is larger than Europe, but has no infrastructure and has had no competent army since independence.
Soldiers who live with their families, steal to eat, wander as they will, where they will. There is no discipline and a collapsing command structure. The government pays them nothing. They get no wages, but instead they are expected to raid and steal to make up the shortfall.
They attack villages and refugee camps, raping women and looting, and they fight to survive. So Congo remains unstable, and there are now as many troops there as there were at the beginning.
They failed to keep the peace back then, but in the absence of any meaningful government in the Congo now, the UN represents the only law enforcer. It must impose its will to end the slaughter – slaughter which averages a thousand violent deaths per day. More than five million people have been killed in the past decade.
|Civilians bear the brunt of the horrific violence in the Congo [Gallo/Getty]
A bewildering array of factions is vying for power in Congo. These include the Rwandan rebels, led until recently by Laurent Nkunda, and the Lord’s Resistance Army who roam the bush in northern and eastern Congo, terrorising the population.
Then there are the Mai Mai – opportunist gangs and coalitions of independent militias criss-crossing Eastern Congo.
Theirs is a dark history, for they are responsible for much of the torture, maiming and murder that so disfigure the east of the country.
Although ethnic and tribal tensions are in part responsible for Congo’s strife, there is also its wealth.
Lack of authority
The country has immense natural resources. Gold and diamond mines, cobalt, coltran; scarce minerals the world covets. Those with the power control the mines.
But the UN forces lack the authority to impose themselves on the fighters. Their rules of engagement do not permit it because they are forbidden to use their weapons unless they are fired upon.
So the world body is unwilling to turn this peacekeeping mission into peace enforcement without the right mandate.
Sylvie van den Wildenberg, UN spokesperson, told Al Jazeera: "everybody has to understand that there is no military solution to such a crisis."
According to General Babacar Gaye, the Monuc Force Commander his troops are
"the only military that will not loot them [civilians], will not rape them, that will not cause them any harm."
The most vivid example of the people's plight we found was in the Kibati refugee camp outside Goma.
Here the camp was positioned in no-man's land, between opposing forces.
Congolese government soldiers faced Rwandan rebels with 10,000 hapless displaced people living in between them, in tents, and wondering who was going to shoot first.
The day after Al Jazeera visited the area, two women were shot dead by government forces during an attempted rape.
We also visited Hope Village, a rehabilitative centre for victims of rape, where all those housed there told of their experiences at the hands of soldiers.
Before rehab the women had been treated at Goma hospital, where surgeons attempt to repair the unspeakable damage which has been inflicted on these unfortunate women.
They are invariably left with incontinence, sexually transmitted diseases, an inability to bear children and often ostracism from their communities.
In examples like these Monuc is unlikely to be able to offer protection. Its forces are simply too thinly spread in such a vast country. One of the women from Hope Village said: “Monuc only goes where there are roads, and my village is in the mountains".
They say they are doing their best, and when asked if Monuc was on "a mission impossible", Alan Doss, a spokesman for the UN replied, "I don't believe it is mission impossible. It is mission difficult, but if it's impossible, why be here?"
War and Peacekeepers can be seen on Monday March 09 at 1900GMT and on Tuesday March 10 at 0600GMT