Nepal Army’s Peacekeeping Post in Eringiti, 60 kilometers west of Beni, capital of Ituri Province of the DRC, is one of the tense hotbeds of Congo’s civil war.
Eringiti and the surrounding areas saw a fierce fighting in the second Congo war in 2001, with more than half a million civilians killed. Even after fifteen years of the brutal civil war, the place is yet to see a complete relief.
Between October 2014 and May 2016, over 500 people died in a series of attacks on Eringiti and its surrounding areas that have been attributed to Ugandan Islamist Rebels.
Beni is a city in north eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, lying immediately west of the Virunga National Park and the Rwenzori Mountains, on the edge of the Ituri Forests.
Alert all the time to protect civilian, Nepalese peacekeepers deployed in the areas marched to the villages, saving civilians from the brutal attacks of the rebels, risking their own lives.
Patrolling the surrounding villages all days and nights, Nepalese UN peacekeepers also provide escorts and security to UN peacekeepers from Bangladesh, deployed to construct the road there.
“It is a very difficult terrain with dense forests. Our soldiers have been able to contain rebels and other smaller armed groups to protect the civilians,” said Lt. Col and Commander Chakra Bahadur Shah, whose battalion Nanda Box, returned to Nepal after completing its 9-month mission.
Living far away from their own homeland, with threats of mosquito bite, deadly malaria, Juka virus and many other diseases, the solders of Nepal Army have been fulfilling their duty with bravery and obedience. For Nepali peacekeepers, their primary job is to protect the civilians from rebel attacks and construct the road.
Let alone the physical threat, peacekeepers have to live in mental stress, separated from their family members, for about ten months in the mission.
“My challenge will be to keep the soldiers busy all the time giving energy to work and save the general public from rebel attack,” said Lt. Colonel Ratna Godar, who is from Samsher Dal Battalion, which just replaced Nanda Box Battalion in Beni. “Given our experiences in the mission, we can perform our duty well.”
As Nanda Box Battalion returned from the 22nd peacekeeping mission in DRC, the situation has improved in the eastern parts. Although the rebels are still active, killing the common people, raping women and children and demanding ransom, Nepal Army battalions have remained vigilant all the time.
Despite all difficulties, Nepal Army’s peacekeepers in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have been able to give smiles to millions of Congolese civilians, raising their hopes of safety and security. From road construction to patrolling villages in rural and remote parts of eastern Kivu province, high risk areas, bordering Uganda and Rwanda, the soldiers are working all the while.
Jeeny Kaboni, 37, years old lady from a village, lost her entire family thirteen years ago when violence suddenly erupted in Rwanda. Millions of refuges came to survive the Tutsi atrocities. Backed by Rwanda and Uganda, the rebels captured the power and there was rampant looting, the incidents of killing and raping young women in mass. The situation were completely chaotic.
With 92 percent militias and rebel groups working in the areas, this is known as the the hottest area of DRC. As the condition of road is very poor or many areas remain uncovered, there is a need of lot of work.
NEPBATT has also been backing Congo’s national police and Congolese army to fight with rebels. According to a report, the rebels killed 833 last year, with 212 incidents of loot, 310 kidnapping, 43 rape and 121 incidents of firing. Along with these incidents, 338 injured, 245 arrested, 40 surrendered and recovery of 41 set of weapons. Rebels laid 36 ambushes.
The battalion conducts 1324 patrol, 2055 night vehicle patrols, 1503 day foot petrol, 580 day stratick, 272 night stratic, 197 joint petrol and 859 escorts.
With a main mandate of protection of civilians, Nepal Army’s battalion has been actively patrolling the area.
Allied Democratic Force is an extreme Muslim Rebel group, which has entered from Uganda. There are seven rebel and criminal groups active in the areas where Nepalese peacekeepers are working. They are attacking small units and posts of FARDC. MayiMayi groups are in several names. MM groups have recently intensified their activities in the region.
Third powerful rebel group is FDLR (Democratic Force for the Liberation of Rwanda). This is an anti-Rwanda group and they have been attacking the neighboring posts of Rwanda. As they entered Congo following the genocide in Rwanda, the members of this group have been living in the Congo, marrying with Congolese women.
“The time is now for smart Peacekeeping with technology and there is the need to increase the technological capability of our peacekeepers," said Lt. Colonel Shah. "Out of 22000 peacekeepers served till now, four were killed and we are leaving the Congo without any casualty and this is a matter of satisfaction for the whole battalion.”
With the request from United Nations, Nepal had sent first of its battalion in war-torn northern Congo to save the civilians in 2003. Out of seven countries, Nepal is one to provide its battalion to stabilize the Congo.
Down the thirteen years, Nepalese peacekeepers have been fighting the menace in the mosquito infested zone and containing the active and brutal rebels, who don’t mind to chop the head of civilians and rape the innocent women.
Nepali battalion is covering the areas of 220 kilometers east and west and 130 kilometers north and south of vastly unmanned and densely forested areas of DRC.
Nepal Army’s battalion is providing security to only operational airport of Beni of Boikeni province. NEPBTAT has company operating base in three areas and one temporary operating base almost 57 kilometers.
Nepal Engineering Battalion in Bunia
Almost two hundred kilometers northwest of Bunia, Nepalese Army Engineering Company has been constructing various roads. In the last ten years, they have already completed the construction and reconstruction of over 2100 kilometers of graveled all weather roads.
Bunia is another hotbed of the tribal battle. Once a bustling gold and diamond town, the city is now gradually recovering. Before the deployment of UN peacekeepers, atrocities and killings were common. However, the city’s situation has improved a lot now.
Although the engineering company does not directly get involved in military operations, they have been constructing the roads with three major basic goals: mobility, counter mobility, and survivability for the general public.
“We have been doing field fortification and CPB and TOB, vertical construction repair and construction of airfield, helipad, bridge, leveling and compaction of ground and other engineering assistance as necessary,” said Lt. Colonel Harisharan Adhikari, field engineer, company 19 replaced by 20 company led by Lt. Colonel Rajendra Shrestha. “We have capacity to construct two wide roads at a time. As we have completed Bogerato road, it helps to increase the mobility of people improving the access to market.”
With the construction of fine roads, the local community hails Nepalese Army Peacekeepers as their saviors. The two hundred kilometers long Bunia and Bogo road is an example how Nepal Army Peacekeepers are winning the hearts and minds of the local people.
“The construction of road not only shortens the distance between the rural parts of the province and city but it also help to increase the mobility of Congolese security forces and UN Peacekeepers,” said Major Hari Bahadur Bohara, who has already been promoted to Lt. Colonel in June.
While travelling on the road, one can see hectic mobility of people by different vehicles. “This is a great work. Following the construction of the road, it has reduced the traveling distance between our towns and Bunia by almost seven hours," said Jacqulin Road, a post master. “In the past, it usually took fifteen days to reach letters from Bunia to these places. Now it is a matter of hours.”
As the popularity of the Nepalese peacekeepers is growing at the community level because of the work they performed even in hostile situations, even UN commander has come out openly praising the work done by them.
“Nepalese peacekeepers are the jewels in the crown of MONUSCO. Their performance is extraordinary. I have not found them saying no to any order given by us," said an Algerian diplomat. “The work they have done under the mission is a great achievement. UN recognizes it," M'hand Ladjouzi - Director of MONUSCO Ituri.
“Nepalese battalion has been working well, protecting the civilians and other people in the red zones of Beni and adjoining places,” said Brig. gen Md Rafiqul Islam - Brigade Commander.
At a time when foreigners hail the role of Nepalese army personnel that have been deployed far away from Nepal in difficult mountain terrains in dense forests, Nepal government seems to care about this little. As the political leadership is busy with power politics, only a few political leaders find the time to see the sacrifice and contribution of Nepali soldiers.
Unlike what the common people may think, peacekeeping is not an easy task. Of course, peacekeepers are paid better than while they are here but they have to take high risks while performing duties in places such as in Congo.
There are frequent clashes between armed groups and the UN and Congolese forces in the Gety region, and civilians are displaced repeatedly.
Nepalese peacekeepers also back the operations conducted by Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo or FARDC, in French) against the rebels. Formed as part of the peace process at the end of the second Congo Civil war, FARDC is being rebuilt, integrating the former rebels as well.
Along with protecting civilians from rebels and other small local bandit groups and providing backup support to FARDC, Nepal Army has also given the role to provide security to the airport in Beni and provide all escorts to UN and other Humanitarian agencies.
In spite of frequent attacks by the rebel groups in some red areas which are under the control of Nepalese peacekeepers, Nepal Army is offering escorts to all.
At present, the daily allowance for army peacekeepers receives US$1000 and month. NA personnel have also been contributing their allowance to Nepal Army Welfare Fund.
Although Nepalese Army personnel have been working in such dangerous areas to maintain peace, the heavy equipment, including their armored vehicles, and other equipments needed to construct the road are old. Even the vehicles used to escort and patrol the areas are old.
According to a source, less than 20 percent of heavy equipments and vehicles are in good conditions as they were brought here almost a decade ago.
Nepal Army’s reputation for outstanding service in UN Peace Support Operations goes back to 56 years, beginning in 1958, when Nepali military observers were deployed in Lebanon.
"You have given us your best resources-your men and women. Some have sacrificed their very lives for the cause of peace under the United Nations Flag," Secretary General Ban-Ki-Moon has said of the forces.
Since then, Nepal Army personnel have served in 40 UN missions, during which 59 Nepali peacekeepers have sacrificed their lives in the line of duty. Three have died in Congo alone.
Since taking the helm of Nepal Army, COAS Rajendra Chhetri has been adopting a series of steps to improve the quality of equipments.
“As Nepal Army personnel have been doing their duty as per the mandate of UN, it is a matter of pride for all us to see the recognition of their work,” said Brigadier General Tara Bahadur Karki spokesperson of Nepal Army. “The process of purchasing equipments has already started and we are in the process to supply necessary equipments.” They will receive new equipments soon.”
With the lack of basic vehicles and other new equipments, Nepal Army soldiers are fighting a forlorn battle, as praiseworthy soldiers yet helpless.
Along with enhancing the prestige of Nepal in international arena, these soldiers are also bringing foreign currency in Nepal, contributing to sustain Nepal’s economy.
Had the government provided the latest equipments, they would have used their strength more efficiently in enhancing the quality of service. As there is a growing competition in the UN Peacekeeping Mission, the time has come to update all their equipment.
Unlike Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and other countries around the world, Nepalese government is least bother about Nepal’s own peace keepers.
As of 31 July 2016, the Nepalese Army has deployed across 15 missions around the world. As a troop contributing country, Nepal ranks sixth in the world. Currently, Nepalese Army has some 4361 soldiers, including 98 female soldiers. As 1327 will be added, the number will reach 5688. Out of 96924 strength of the army, Nepal has expressed its commitment to contribute 10 percent or 9600 army personnel.
According to data published by UN Peacekeeping, 87245 troops of 123 countries are taking part in the peacekeeping operations around the world.
After visiting Congo, one has to agree with the statement of UN Secretary General: “You have given us your best resources-your men and women. Some have sacrificed their very lives for the cause of peace under the United Nations Flag."