The United Nations mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) will receive its first unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) next month, in a historic move that will see the aircraft being used to monitor rebel activity.
The UN DRC mission (Monusco) brigade commander, General Carlos Alberto Dos Santos Cruz, said the first UAVs would be flying by the last week of next month, with 24 hour surveillance available by March or April.
“The initial base to operate the aerial vehicle will be in Goma, and for five months we are going to increase the equipment,” he was quoted by Agence France Presse as saying.
It will be the first time the United Nations has used such equipment and, if the trial surveillance use by peacekeepers in eastern Congo is successful, officials and diplomats also hope the drones could be used by missions in Ivory Coast and South Sudan, Reuters reports. The United Nations has set aside money to deploy surveillance drones eventually in Ivory Coast to monitor its border with Liberia following a recommendation by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and a request from the West African country.
Italian company Selex ES has been selected to supply its unarmed Falco medium altitude, medium endurance aircraft to the UN. UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told Reuters that the United Nations had signed the commercial contract for the UAV on July 12. The UAVs were supposed to be deployed earlier but there were delays resulting from UN member state procurement rules. Last month the UN said the UAVs would only be deployed in December, but this now appears to have been pushed forward.
Thick forests, rugged terrain and the scarcity of roads on Congo’s eastern border with Rwanda and Uganda have complicated efforts by Monusco to control the resource-rich area.
Congo and UN peacekeepers have been battling an insurgency by M23 rebels for more than a year. UN experts have accused Rwanda of sending troops and weapons across the border to support the M23. Rwanda denies the accusation.