Despite their massively superior firepower, the UN team deem it too dangerous to chase the militiamen into the bushes. “Militants know the area, so you don’t see where they’re running to. If they sent us to run after them, soldiers would die,” says Rifleman Meshack Mathye, the reality of his admission in stark contrast to the “Aggressive and Fearless” T-shirt he sports to match his blue UN peacekeeper’s helmet.
The failure of the UN troops to live up to the slogan is most painfully evident in the quantity of weapons that the confiscation programme has gleaned in this lawless corner of the Congo.
After two raids involving more than 1,000 troops, supported by helicopter gunships and tanks, the sum total of the haul is two out-of- commission AK47s, two empty magazines and one used mortar shell.
As long as they can keep their weapons, the murder, gang rape and pillaging will continue and the credibility of the UN peacekeeping forces is likely to remain in doubt. Most of the rogue militiamen are loyal to the UPC, or Patriotic Congolese Union, and FNI, or Nationalist and Integrationalist Force, who both defied a UN-backed order to give up all weapons by April 1.
The FNI is believed to be responsible for the murder, beheading and mutilation of nine Bangladeshi UN peacekeepers in an ambush earlier this year, while the UPC has been accused of carrying out similar atrocities against children.
When the mission to disarm them began last month, it was in the rare expectation that the “get tough” rhetoric might be matched with words.
The reality is rather different. As the multi-national force approaches the target zone, the militia fighters simply run away with as much weaponry as they can carry. After a brief search of the camp, there is little for the UN team to do except get back in their helicopters and fly back to their base.
“We just searched the camp for weapons, saw the militia men on the mountain and didn’t go after them,” says one glum private. “Most of the weapons they leave are useless or broken.”
His commanders, meanwhile, shift the talk from “forcible” disarmament to “psychological” disarmament.
Major Arefin, from Bangladesh, said: “Even though we don’t catch them directly, I think these operations are convincing people to disarm voluntarily. We’re forcing them to disarm psychologically by scaring them.”