UNO’s Atrocities in Katanga

The Fearful Master

“Regret your odious lie constituted by statement that UNO mercenaries do not fire at Red Cross ambulances and others–stop–You would be authorised to speak after spending night with us in hospital bombarded by your shameless and lawless ruffians.”

Telegram to U Thant from the forty-six civilian doctors of Elisabethville, the Congo

It was December 12, 1961. Christmas was coming to Katanga.

Smith Hempstone, African correspondent for the Chicago News, reported from Elisabethville:

The United Nations jets next turned their attention to the center of the city. Screaming in at treetop level while excited soldiers and white civilians popped away at them with anything from 22 pistols to submachine guns, they blasted the post office and radio station, severing Katanga’s communications with the outside world . . .. One came to the conclusion that the United Nations’ action was intended to make it more difficult for correspondents to let the world know what was going on in Katanga, since the only way press dispatches could be filed was to drive them 150 miles to Northern Rhodesia over a road studded with tribal roadblocks and subject to United Nations air attacks . . .. By December 12, 1961 . . . mortar shells hailed down on the center of the city as the softening up process began . . .. Among the “military objectives” hit: a beauty shop, the apartment of the French consul, Sabena Airways office, the Roman Catholic Cathedral, the Elisabethville museum.

A car pulled up in front of the Grand Hotel Leopold II where all of us were staying. “Look at the work of the American criminals,” sobbed the Belgian driver. “Take a picture and send it to Kennedy!” In the back seat, his eyes glazed with shock, sat a wounded African man cradling in his arms the body of his ten year old son. The child’s face and belly had been smashed to jelly by mortar fragments.

The forty-six civilian doctors of Elisabethville unanimously issued a joint report on the United Nations actions against Katanga which included the following account of the December 12, 1961, bombing of the Shinkolobwe hospital:

The Shinkolobwe hospital is visibly marked with an enormous red cross on the roof of the administrative pavilion. . . .

At about 8 a.m. . . . two aeroplanes flew over the hospital twice at very low altitude; at about 9:30 a.m. the aeroplanes started machine-gunning . . . the market square, and then the school and the hospital in which there were about 300 patients and their families. . . .

The administrative building, the left wing of the four pavilions and the household buildings . . . were bombed and show hundreds of points of impact made by the machine-gun bullets.

In the maternity, roof, ceilings, walls, beds, tables and chairs are riddled with bullets; a bomb exploded in another pavilion which was luckily unoccupied; the roof, the ceiling, half of the walls and the furniture have been blasted and shattered. . . . The blood from the wounded makes the buildings look like a battlefield. . . .

In the maternity, four Katangan women who had just been delivered and one newborn child are wounded, a visiting child of four years old is killed; two men and one child are killed. . . .

Out of the 300 patients, 240 fled into the bush, refusing to be evacuated to any other hospital, for they say . . . “the UNO prefers to aim at the hospitals and we would henceforth no longer feel safe there.

Professor Ernest van den Haag3 made a personal visit to the Congo to witness firsthand the events and conditions there. In commenting on the United Nations statement that the only civilians wounded in Katanga were combatants in the resistance, he said:

It is hard to speak, as I did, with a mother whose husband was killed at home in her presence with bayonets by UN soldiers.4 She was in the hospital to help take care of her six year old child, severely wounded by United Nations bayonets. A child’s bayonet wounds are hardly due to having been suspected of being mercenary or combatant.5

The doctors of Elisabethville reported the “triple and particularly heinous assassination of three elderly people” on December 16, 1961, as follows:

The . . . “boy” of Mr. Derriks, Mr. André Kapenga, a witness, relates that nothing special occurred until 1:45 p.m. At this moment, the old cook, Mr. Jean Fimbo, has just brought coffee into the drawing room, and Mr. Guillaume Derriks (60-year-old Belgian) and his elderly mother (aged 87) who lives with him, are about to drink it.

At that moment, an armored car of the UNO takes up position on the path . . . and is machine-gunning the other side of the valley. . . . When the firing has ceased, [United Nations] mercenaries enter the garden . . . and machine-gun the two cars parked in the garage.

The “boy” André Kapenga, is panic-stricken; he locks himself in the food-store next to the kitchen. The [soldiers] climb the stairs leading from the garage to the kitchen and with a burst of machine-gun fire shoot Mr. Jean Fimbo, who has sought refuge under the sink . . . enter the drawing-room where Mr. Derriks who cries out in English: “Not me,” is shot down by a bullet . . . and is finished off by a burst which blows off half of his face and skull.

A few seconds later, a third burst hits Mrs. Derriks in the right breast . . . and in the neck. . . .

At about 5 p.m. the “boy” Kapenga hears the soldiers once more entering the villa, where they run about looting to a slight extent before leaving. Soon after, Mr. Kapenga ventures out of his hiding place and horrified at the sight of the three bodies, runs away and hides himself in a loft.

Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs G. Mennen Williams, speaking in Detroit, accused the Katangese government of fabricating what he called “horrendous tales of indiscriminate mayhem by United Nations troops” during their December attack on Katanga. Millions of Americans read Williams’ assurances in their newspapers and were relieved. Practically no one has read Smith Hempstone’s reply:

Unquestionably, the Katanga Information Service had played up United Nations atrocities, real and imagined, for all they were worth. Williams might have been in a better position to judge, however, had he spent some time in Elisabethville’s Leo Deux while UN mortar shells rained down during those last days before Christmas. Every newsman there had seen civilians shelled with his own eyes. Each of us had seen Red Cross vehicles destroyed by United Nations fire. Or were all of us lying? Georges Alavet, the Swedish Red Cross representative, lay in his shallow grave in testimony that we were not. Sanché de Gramont of the New York Herald Tribune might well have sent Williams a few pieces of the shrapnel picked from his body after United Nations troops shot up the civilian car in which he was leaving Elisabethville.

Much has happened since December 12, 1961. Like any point along the infinite corridor of time, it is neither the beginning nor the end. But it is a reference point, a handhold on an otherwise glass-smooth sphere too large to grasp in its entirety. The story of Katanga, its tragic struggle for freedom against the United Nations and the part that this story plays in the overall view of the United Nations itself, is so vast, so huge and overpowering that it seems impossible to find a place to begin. But, like most seemingly overwhelming tasks, it is not as important where one begins as it is that one does begin. To move a mountain, one must dig. December 12, 1961, is the first spade.

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