The Democratic Republic of Congo has raised doubts about the credentials of the Indian Army which has deployed over 4,500 soldiers in the central African country where anarchy rules.
Congo has told the United Nations that it does not want Indian troops, sources in the Indian brigade, based in North Kivu's capital Goma, confirmed to HT on Wednesday. "This is serious. The Congolese government is against more Indian troops being deployed. But what's even worse is that they have expressed reservations about the existing contingent too," the sources said.
This comes at a time when the largest Indian deployment on foreign soil finds itself sucked into conflict. Recent weeks have seen a dangerous escalation in hostilities between the government forces and rebel militias. An AFP report from Kinshasa quoted unnamed diplomatic sources as saying that the Congolese government has written to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon asking him not to send Indian troops to reinforce the peacekeeping mission.
The UN Security Council had voted last week to send 3,000 reinforcements to Congo. The composition of troops is yet to be worked out.
Indian peacekeepers have been serving the UN mission, known by its French acronym MONUC, since January 2005. According to the AFP, India is not mentioned by name but the Congolese government is "without doubt" referring to the Indian contingent. Congo has accused Indian soldiers of numerous abuses of power.
A senior officer in the Army headquarters said it was not for the host country to dictate terms to the UN. "Nothing has been communicated to us so far. Serious allegations have been levelled against several contingents in the past. We have never shied away from disciplining troops."
More than 300 UN peacekeepers from different countries have been investigated for sexual misconduct since 2005. At least 10 soldiers were found to be involved in a sex-for-cash scandal in Congo. The United Nations code of conduct in Congo prohibits peacekeepers from soliciting prostitutes. The peacekeepers involved returned home this April as part of half-yearly troop rotation. Charges against them would be corroborated here before prosecutions.
Indian troops have faced a barrage of charges including child abuse, sexual exploitation and smuggling gold. The UN mission had in July called for an inquiry into comments by an Indian colonel in support of Tutsi warlord Laurent Nkunda. The 18,391-strong MONUC is the largest and costliest UN deployment across the globe. With 8,862 peacekeepers, India is the third-largest contributor of troops to the UN.
The Congolese foreign minister's letter, quoted by AFP, said, "In view of the numerous abuses of power carried out by certain troops within MONUC, the (Congolese) people would not understand if soldiers from the same country would be used to boost numbers."
The Indian Air Force has deployed eight attack and 11 transport helicopters in Congo, apart from army aviation's four Cheetah helicopters. It is the only UN mission where an Indian soldier has been awarded the Param Vir Chakra for outstanding gallantry. The honour went to Captain G.S. Salaria who laid down his life in 1961 to save the Katanga province from falling to rebels.