Un blue helmet mission in congo: ukrainian soldiers as smugglers

Wearing uniforms of Kabila’s presidential guard, Ukrainian pilots allegedly wanted to "go hunting" back home. Now they are under arrest in Goma.

They all look the same anyway, these uniforms: Congolese presidential guards. Picture: ap

New scandal for the largest UN blue helmet mission in the world: Six Ukrainian pilots of the UN mission in Congo (Monusco) were arrested on Wednesday at the airport of the eastern Congolese provincial capital Goma. Six uniforms of the Congolese presidential guard were found in their luggage along with the corresponding pistols, local radio stations reported.

Monusco military spokesman Prosper Basse confirmed to UN-funded "Radio Okapi" that the Ukrainians had been taken to Goma army headquarters "for in-depth investigations into the origin of the uniforms and the modalities that led the Ukrainian soldiers to buy them."

Congo’s army spokesman in Goma, Colonel Olivier Hamuli, said the presidential guard itself stopped ten Ukrainian UN soldiers leaving the airport compound, along with a Congolese civilian, presumably the seller. They searched the car and discovered the contraband, he said.

According to one report, the Ukrainians offered $5,000 to be allowed to continue; to no avail. The Ukrainians were arrested under the eyes of a crowd, the report said. Photos later showed the angry commander of the Blue Helmets in Congo, Brazilian General Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz, in front of the army headquarters.

The UN does not confirm this, but only that investigations are underway and that they call for "calm". The provincial government in Goma has asked local radio stations to stop reporting on the matter for security reasons.

Uniforms run short in war

The Ukrainians reportedly said first that they had acquired the uniforms as "souvenirs" and then that they wanted to "go hunting" with them back home. Ukraine is at war and the need for uniforms is great.

Goma is the second headquarters of the UN mission in Congo, along with the capital, Kinshasa, and headquarters for all UN military operations in eastern Congo. The uniform smuggling occurred just as the blue helmet mission began one of its most sensitive operations: the transfer of dozens of fighters from the Rwandan Hutu militia FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) to a military camp in Kisangani, as a first step toward demobilizing the militia. 28 FDLR fighters and 62 dependents are affected by the action, which began Wednesday in Goma.

It is unclear if there is a connection to the uniform smuggling.

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