Today marks exactly 59 years ago, on April 28, 1961, 43 Ghanaian peacekeepers were killed in one of the UN’s deadliest missions by the Congolese army at Port Francqui, Kasai, Congo.
The incident was precipitated by the visit of the Congolese Interior Minister to Port Francqui, in northwestern Kasai province. During a public speech the minister accused the local Congolese National Army (ANC) of being the cause of trouble rather than a deterrent, and denounced them for being anti-Lulua.
He also threatened that the UN would disarm them if their attitudes did not change. The minister was under UN escort. The ANC troops were offended by these comments, and believed that the UN shared the same partiality toward the Luluas in the tribal conflict in northern Kasai as the Interior minister.
The next evening, ANC forces under the command of Col. Mobutu attacked UN troops stationed at Port Francqui. The ninety-man Ghanaian garrison was clearly unprepared for the attack.
Dispersed in six different places in the town, the UN troops were quickly overpowered. According to UN records, 47 UN personnel were killed.
The official report of the incident concluded that the direct cause of the incident was the speech and attitude of the Interior Minister. What is striking about this is that the minister’s UN escorts did not make the connection between the minister’s threat and the potential for a violent reaction against the UN; nor did they report information on the minister’s visit to intelligence-trained officers who could have made the connection and alerted command of the possible threat.
As the report suggests, the principal weakness of ONUC that was evident in the Port Francqui incident was that there was ‘no system of alert to warn troops against any aggressive action by ANC’ in sum, poor procedures leading to no intelligence.
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