Kalongo, Democratic Republic of Congo – Androzo Bekere clearly remembers the attack on his village in Kalongo.
Standing beside a graveyard where wooden crosses bear the names of those killed, he gestures towards a cluster of houses, abandoned by their inhabitants.
“It was about four in the afternoon when we were told that armed men had captured a girl from here, in the field where she was farming,” he said. “We called the army. They came with us to the field and we thought the rebels had escaped, but later that evening, they encircled the village and started attacking people with machetes.”
Six people were killed in that attack in May 2015, including the village chief and his wife. It was reportedly carried out by the Allied Democratic Forces, an armed group with ties to Uganda. It has been held responsible for most of the attacks in Beni territory, in which Kalongo is located, over the past year.
According to Bekere, the peacekeepers at the nearby UN base, just 3km away in Mavivi, did not come to their aid. “Usually, they come after attacks have taken place,” he said. “We have meetings with them and they use interpreters to talk to us, but we don’t see any results.”
A statement from the United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), the UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), says that their Joint Intelligence Operations Centre only received information about the attack at 10:30pm that night, several hours after it had begun.
World’s largest peacekeeping operation
The perception that UN peacekeepers are not doing much, or that they are in Congo as “tourists in helicopters” is a common and not very new refrain among civilians in the North Kivu region.
It is one of the milder criticisms levelled at the world’s largest peacekeeping operation, which has been in the DRC for 15 years and has around 20,000 uniformed personnel in the country.
Protesters have taken to the streets after massacres to demonstrate their frustration with MONUSCO. In a damning 2014 report, Human Rights Watch accused the peacekeepers of failing to respond to repeated calls for help during an attack in which 30 people were killed. The peacekeepers were only 9km away, but arrived two days later.
A few hundred metres away from Kalongo is the N4, the main road north of Beni city.
Nepalese peacekeepers stand watch at intervals along the road, their weapons poised over armoured vehicles. To the north, the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) were recently involved in operations against suspected ADF fighters alongside the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB), the UN’s relatively new offensive combat force.
Created by the UN Security Council in March 2013, months after the rebel group M23 captured the city of Goma in the presence of peacekeepers and to the embarrassment of the UN, the FIB was the first UN combat force authorised to carry out targeted offensive operations against armed groups.
Working under the authority of the MONUSCO Force Commander, the FIB consists of “three infantry battalions, one artillery, and one special force and reconnaissance company with headquarters in Goma”, and has about 3,000 troops from South Africa, Tanzania and Malawi.
Before the creation of the FIB, the mandate of MONUSCO involved protecting civilians and supporting the Congolese government in consolidating its authority, while its predecessor, MONUC, was created to observe a 1999 ceasefire between the DRC and other states in the region.
Although the FIB has been operational in the North Kivu region since mid-2013, attacks against civilians by armed groups have been frequent; according to a report by the UN Group of Experts, between 350 and 450 people were killed in the Beni area from October 2014 to June 2015.