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A woman's machete-ravaged face testifies to the brutality of Congo's conflict. (JAMES AKENA/James Akena/Reuters)
A woman's machete-ravaged face testifies to the brutality of Congo's conflict. (JAMES AKENA/James Akena/Reuters)

Africa's great riddle

The bleak calculus of Congo's war without end Add to ...

However he insists that he has no direct dealings with Mr. Bosco, and isn't sure what role The Terminator now plays in the army. "I don't really know where he sits, but he's not in the immediate chain of command that MONUC deals with - I can guarantee that. He's not directly involved in the operations."

While the Canadians are a small fraction of the overall UN force, Canada's contribution over the years has been substantial. It currently spends $33-million a year to support the peacekeeping force, as part of its UN dues, and it has contributed 440 military personnel to the mission.

Col. Tremblay agonizes over the risks to civilians. "Protection of the population is our centre of gravity. That's our primary concern, that's why we're here. But it's often difficult. We're trying to be in as many places as possible, but with the size of this country, it's impossible to be everywhere."

The FDLR rebels, he argues, are far more murderous than the army. "They want to hit the population and create as many atrocities as possible, to attract international attention. They try to create panic. That's their modus operandi, to attack the innocent and attract attention."

To protect civilians, his latest idea is to distribute cheap cellphones to remote villages, allowing residents to call the peacekeepers if they see approaching rebels. "Then we can immediately send a patrol and we can prevent the village from being looted," he says.

But he confirms that Congolese soldiers, too, are often guilty of looting houses and forcing children to work for them. "They don't really have any training. Being with us - that's the training they get. If they're not paid and fed, they use what they have around them to survive."

In many ways, the battle here is the anti-Afghanistan.

"In Afghanistan, you're trying to surprise the enemy," Col. Tremblay says. "Here, surprise is very difficult. We're not trying to surprise the enemy with covert operations or intelligence. We want them to surrender. They need to have an exit."

To provide that exit route, the UN deploys its demobilization teams ahead of its military operations. They fan out into villages, contacting the rebels and offering to help them return to Rwanda if they give up their weapons.

Matthew Brubacher, a Canadian officer in MONUC's disarmament and demobilization program, has negotiated with rebel officers by satellite phone, shaken hands with them in village marketplaces, helped set up mobile radio stations to broadcast messages to the rebels, and scattered leaflets from helicopters to reach them in the jungle.

Sending rebels home

The leaflets portray a young girl gazing sorrowfully at a group of rebels, while the text appeals to the rebels to think of the future of their families. "You still have a choice," the leaflets say, listing a dozen cellphone numbers anyone interested in disarming can call.

Mr. Brubacher also helps to organize "extraction missions" to get defecting rebels and their families to the safety of MONUC bases. It's sensitive and dangerous work, but he believes it is succeeding.

More than 1,500 FDLR fighters were demobilized last year - three times as many as the previous year - in the aftermath of the government's decision to stop backing the Hutu militia.

Down to fewer than 5,000 fighters and pushed into the remote bush by the military offensives, the FDLR rebels feel "abandoned and betrayed," Mr. Brubacher says. "It's looking more and more futile. There will always be a hardcore group, but we've weakened them. They can't recruit as fast as we take them out. They've lost a lot of their areas, and their revenue from charcoal and cattle is being disrupted."

The UN base in Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, has a group of tents reserved for former rebels and their families waiting to be bused back to Rwanda. Didas Bizimana, a painfully thin 29-year-old former corporal in threadbare clothes, is going back to a country he fled at 13 with the great wave of Hutu refugees after the genocide.

At 17, he says, he was recruited by the FDLR. "They told us we were fighting for the liberation of Rwanda," he recalls. "You could not refuse to join. They forced everyone - you could not escape. But when I realized that I was fighting for nothing, I decided to escape."

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