Interview with Brig-Gen Jan Isberg, acting Ituri Brigade commander

Swedish Brig-Gen Jan Isberg arrived in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in late July to take up his post as deputy force commander of the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC, known as MONUC. A few days later, he was appointed acting commander of the Ituri Brigade - the UN force that took over on 1 September from a French-led multinational force that had completed its mandate of securing the eastern town in Bunia in the embattled Ituri District.

In an interview he granted IRIN on 2 September, Isberg outlined the brigade's capacity, strategy and readiness to respond to threats of violence in Bunia and throughout the district.

Question: When the deployment of the Ituri Brigade is complete, how many companies will make the brigade's infantry troops?

Answer: I expect the whole brigade to be here in Bunia within a month [September]. When complete, the Ituri Brigade will have 16 rifle companies with the accompanying support units, in total about 5,000 men.

Q: Are you fielding a mechanized brigade?

A: No, this will mainly be an infantry brigade reinforced with armoured personnel carriers [APCs]. We are also actively using the APCs in our operations.

Q: How will the Ituri Brigade approach its mission?

A: We are doing everything at the same time, but of course we have a well-defined plan of action. Right now we are concentrating on making Bunia extremely safe, but we have also started going out of the town actively; we are there on the ground and we also use our helicopters.

Q: How will the brigade tackle roving bands of armed men that are responsible for continued insecurity around Bunia?

A: First of all, we must identify and define what a band is and what a militia group is. Militias are the armed groups controlled by political parties or groups, and then we have the bands that are not under the control of any political umbrella, these we consider to be criminal gangs.

I have just been speaking on Radio Okapi [UN radio in based in Bunia] and I have appealed to all militia leaders in the district to control their men. Those not controlled will be considered as criminal gangs and we will deal with them appropriately. I know that the gangs that are not controlled won’t comply with UN guidelines to stop violence but I appeal to militia leaders to adhere to MONUC and UN directives on the conduct of their men and ensure that the violence stops.

Q: What are the brigade's rules of engagement?

A: We are now acting under a Chapter Seven mandate authorised by the UN Security Council. These means the brigade is now enforcing peace, as opposed to keeping peace. Since the brigade's deployment began in mid-August, we haven't had reports where the troops have killed any combatant but we have used force a couple of times. In one instance a crowd stoned a MONUC vehicle and we shot in the air to disperse the crowd. We will not hesitate to use force where necessary.

Q: Has the brigade got a civil police element to take care of police duties?

A: There is a civilian police component in Bunia, which will be deployed soon. This will be a great asset to the brigade. But may I hasten to add that it is the responsibility of the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to provide the men who will be posted to various parts of the town. MONUC's civilian police unit will only advise and facilitate this deployment in conjunction with the Congolese government.

Q: What is the brigade's capacity to respond to potential attack?

A: I can say that the brigade's capacity is enormous. We have all the necessary means - we have helicopters, APCs and the weapons each soldier has. We are capable of countering any attack.

Q: How will Ituri Brigade provide security for the movement of UN humanitarian agencies and NGOs operating throughout Ituri?

A: Right now we have just begun our operations. We are coordinating on a daily basis with these agencies and NGOs; I believe we will be able to assist them in facilitating their movements in the district.

Q: What lesson, if any, has the brigade learnt from the outgoing EU force during the overlap handover period of mid-August to 1 September?

A: During the initial briefings we had with the EU troops, the multinational force firmly stated that we must act according to our new mandate of Chapter Seven immediately and without hesitation, to be ready to use force when the situation dictates. We have adopted this suggestion and we are acting accordingly.

Q: What would you say are the greatest challenges facing the brigade in the immediate future and in the long-term?

A: This brigade was deployed rapidly, it is made up of a number of nations and we are making all efforts to make it work as an effective instrument of the UN. I can say that, so far, it is working out well; the work done, so far, is excellent. I feel confident that we will achieve the objectives for which the force was established and promise that we will execute our mandate in the most professional manner.