But that doesn't seem to be the UN's mission.
So angry villagers in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), attacked a UN convoy of "blue helmets. There were injuries and at least one death has been reported. The attack occurred as the convoy was on its way through Rutshuru, a town near the Congo's borders with Rwanda and Uganda. There an angry "mob" surrounded the convoy of five bulletproof cars, said U.N. spokesman Lt. Col. Jean-Paul Dietrich. He said UN forces fired into the air to disperse the "mob." Others reported the UN forces fired into the crowd.
Inner City Press has asked the Department of Peacekeeping Operations in New York about what munitions were used, without yet receiving an answer. However, the UN categorically denies its troops fired into the crowd.
Even before the attack, angered by a lack of progress towards pacifying the tiny border province, and fuelled by rumours of U.N. collaboration with the rebels, thousands of protesters, many of them refugees, barricaded roads this week near Rutshuru, a lawless area where just last week the Congolese army fought one of its fiercest battles against the fighters of a local warlord.
Now the UN wants the army to pull out and re-create what it calls a "buffer zone" between waring parties.
"We are protesting ... because we cannot accept that Congo's armed forces which moved in to push out the rebels are now going to retreat and take up their previous positions in order to create this buffer zone as (the U.N. peacekeepers) are asking,» said 26-year-old Jean-Claude Ngirabavieyi, one of the demonstrators.
The UN's commitment is meager. While DRC's UN peacekeeping force is the world's largest with 17 000 troops, more than 90% of those stationed in the east, according to Alan Doss, the country's top UN envoy, Doss admits they are still stretched thin. Doss himself calls the UN commitment the equivalent of "one cop for all of Manhattan".
The UN estimates there are about 20 000 militia fighters in the east, belonging to a number of different groups. Among them are members of an extremist ethnic Hutu militia accused of orchestrating the 1994 genocide of 500 000 ethnic Tutsis in Rwanda. The group and others are accused of razing villages, terrorising the local population and perpetrating rapes.
The UN doesn't get it. They righteously condemned the attacks on their peacekeepers.
"MONUC greatly regrets these acts of violence against the international community and its personnel," spokeswoman Sylvie van den Wildenburg said in Kinshasa.
"Such unacceptable acts threaten to discourage those who are only there to assist in restoring the authority of the state ... to the benefit of the population."
So restore it already!
Congo's eastern borderlands risk plunging back into all-out war between the army and the Tutsi rebels after the heaviest clashes in months. Last week's fighting was among the worst since President Joseph Kabila's government signed a ceasefire deal with renegade Tutsi General Laurent Nkunda's rebels and around a dozen other armed militias in January.
The following is from the UN Integrated Regional Information Networks.
Anti-Monuc Protest in Rutshuru Turns Violent
At least one person was wounded and a UN vehicle damaged during a demonstration against peacekeepers in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo town of Rutshuru on 3 September.
"A MONUC [UN Mission in DRC] vehicle was set on fire and two civilian demonstrators wounded by bullets, one in both his feet, the other in his stomach," Benjamin Mbusa, 36, a student in the North Kivu town, who witnessed the demonstration, told IRIN.
MONUC confirmed that one of its vehicles had been burnt but said only one civilian had been wounded and not necessarily by a bullet. This happened when "Indian blue helmets opened fire to defend themselves as per our mandate because the crowd did not want to obey warning shots fired in the air", said Colonel Jean-Paul Dietrich, MONUC's military spokesman.
He added that the crowd started to disperse once the army began firing heavier weapons into the air.
Dietrich also said stones had been thrown at MONUC vehicles in the previous four days. "Two Indian peacekeepers were wounded and one vehicle damaged."
The unrest came five days after fierce fighting broke out between government forces and renegade troops led by dissident general Laurent Nkunda.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the clashes prompted 8,000 civilians to flee to villages along the road to Goma.
"Many of the displaced are now staying with families or in public places such as schools. But we have to move them to allow schools to reopen as normal," said Gloria Fernandez, head of OCHA in DRC, adding that food rations were being distributed to the displaced.
"People are protesting against MONUC because they want the army to advance and push the rebels right out of the country, rather than withdrawing to positions held previously," said Mbusa.
MONUC's civilian spokeswoman, Sylvie van Wildenberg, said: "It is clear that the population doesn't seem to understand MONUC's role in the Amani [peace] process" enshrined in a ceasefire deal signed in January.
Under this deal, the various armed groups active in eastern DRC are supposed to disengage, creating buffer zones that MONUC is meant to occupy.
National police and soldiers were guarding MONUC premises in Rutshuru on the morning of 3 September.