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Díaz de Villegas: “My only option was to resign. It was my duty”

February 8, 2009

Those who have been following closely the war in North Kivu will remember general Vicente Díaz de Villegas. General Díaz was named Commander in Chief of the MONUC forces on October 4th, 2008. He resigned only three weeks later, just a few days before the CNDP offensive towards Goma on October 29th. Many international staff evacuated Goma that day (me included). The following days, many people wondered why General Díaz had resigned. But his lips remained sealed and acces to him in Spain was forbidden to journalists.

Díaz, a Spanish citizen, was pictured by many UN staff in Congo as a coward who did not have the guts to face the responsibility. In sharp contrast, many Congolese applauded his resignation and portrayed him as a man of principles.

His resignation has remained a mistery since then.

It was only today that the Spanish newspaper El País published an extract of the confidential report that Díaz de Villegas sent to the DPKO headquarters in New York.

Villegas was formed in the Spanish Legion (home of the fiercest soldiers of the Spanish army) and in the Spanish Special Operations Forces. He was commander in chief of the first Spanish contingent in Kosovo in 1999, and he also served in Afganistan in 2005. These credentials do not seem those of a coward. He arrived a few days after MONUC and the government of Kinshasa had signed the Plan of the Separation, which in practical terms meant that a demilitarized zone would be created and MONUC and the FARDC would face CNDP in the field of battle:

These are some extracts of Díaz´s report (translated from Spanish):

In my opinion, the plan was a clear example of a mission creep. The idea was to put military pressure over an armed group through offensive actions. MONUC did not have neither the mandate nor the capacity to take those. In fact, the plan was completely divorced from reality”.

According to the Spanish newspaper, general Díaz visited MONUC´s positions in Kanyabayonga and Sake, here in North Kivu; Millembwe and Wallangu, in South Kivu; and Kamatsi and Bogory, in Ituri.

My first impression of these visits”, General Díaz continues, “confirmed the quality of the soldiers under my command, but also the limited operational capacity of the force. After a detailed analysis with my Head of Staff (the very reliable French general Eric Arnaud), I concluded that the force lacked flexibility and mobility. The units could only react to protect civilians in the main towns and axes. In the rest of the country, they had to limit themselves to self protection”.

We will always remember Kiwanja as the best example of this analysis. When CNDP´s forces massacred more than 150 civilians, MONUC´s blue helmets in Kiwanja remained in their barracks, at literally a throw of stone of the atrocities.

There were no risk or threat evaluation procedures”, Díaz affirms regarding MONUC. “Security plans needed to be reviewed. There was no plan to gather information and there were no reinforcements”.

This is to say: if an isolated MONUC unit was in danger, no reinforcements could be send to help them. According to Díaz´s report, there were not even medical supplies or ammonition for the MONUC offensive.

According to this situation, and considering that Nkunda did not want to deploy the weapons, the only possibility for the plan to succeed was that the CNDP wererapidly defeated by a joint offensive of MONUC and the Congolese Army. Otherwise, General Díaz affirms, “the reaction could be potentially catastrophic”. (…) If they were able to resist the first attack or launch a counteroffensive, the UN troops would become an objective. The main headquarters [of the blue helmets] could resist, but those less protected would risk a great danger”. (…) Massive population displacements would take place and acts of violence by all parties defeated, no matter who they may be, together with reprisals by the winning factions, would create the scenario of possible massacres”.

Díaz de Villegas correctly understood the power of CNDP, and he also understood that MONUC and FARDC together could not defeat them. He tried to convince Alan Doss that the plan had to be delayed, but Doss left him no choice. After months doing almost nothing since he arrived from Liberia, the heat made Doss finally move…. but it was too late. And once he had moved, after months of passiveness, he could not stop again because the just arrived new Commander in Chief was asking him to do so.

If the forces had been equipped accordingly much before the situation heated, Díaz would not have found himself in that situation. So Díaz payed for MONUC´s lack of prevision.

I had just arrived, I was just landing and gathering information about the mission when suddenly its nature changed abruptly to assume a dangerously offensive character, without taking into consideration my opinion but under my responsibility. When authority and responsibility are dissociated, it is better to resign”. The last sentence is very clear: no matter what may happen in the field, the responsibility would be his and not Doss.

As a military proffessional who has served in combat and peacekeeping operations, and aware of the sad precedents of UNPROFOR [the mission in Bosnia that could not stop the killing of 8,000 civilians in Srebrenica] and ONUSOM II [the failed US intervention in Somalia], I felt that resigning was my duty in order to attract the attention and not to assume the responsibility of the potential consequences [of applying the Plan of Separation]”.

Due to his decision to resign, Díaz de Villegas lost his third star and, as a result, was sent to the reserve last January 18th.

His report ends with this words: “I knew that no one was going to like my decission. And I paid a high personal price for it. But it was my duty as an officer.. I owed honesty to my subordinates and loyalty to my superiors. I had no choice”.

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