MONUSCO withdrawal must not leave security vacuums – UN

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Withdrawal of the United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) must not create security vacuums and jeopardise protection of civilians, a senior UN official told the Security Council with speakers calling for a gradual, responsible and conditions-based transition.

Martha Pobee, Assistant Secretary-General for Africa in the Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations, said despite a lull in clashes between the 23 March Movement (M23) and the Armed Forces of Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC), the security situation in the country’s eastern region continued to deteriorate in Ituri and North Kivu.  Withdrawal of M23 from occupied areas was tactical as it still controls a large part of the Masisi and Rutshuru territories and its offensive repositioning in recent weeks raises fears hostilities could flare up again.

She said relative security gains in North Kivu are overshadowed by the deteriorating situation in Ituri, suffering from the security vacuum created by the redeployment of FARDC. Over 600 people were killed by armed groups during the reporting period, she said, citing the Coalition of Congolese Democrats (CODECO), Zaïre militia and the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) as main perpetrators.

She detailed MONUSCO efforts to assist Congolese authorities with the pre-cantonment and disarmament of M23 adding the mission provided direct protection to the civilian population through protection by projection.  To date, between fifty and seventy thousand displaced people are under direct MONUSCO protection at the Roe site in Djugu territory.  Additionally, the Mission repelled CODECO attacks on numerous occasions and contributed to the fight against ADF.

Numerous Security Council members commended MONUSCO’s contribution to maintaining stability, protecting civilians and supporting the electoral processes, with some urging the Mission to strengthen communication with the DR Congo government.

Turning to the electoral process, the speaker for Ecuador emphasised protection of human rights defenders, journalists and civil society must be of utmost priority in the lead up to elections. Against the backdrop of the worsening humanitarian crisis — with over 26 million people suffering acute food insecurity — he stressed the “herculean” work conducted by MONUSCO must be supported.

The United Kingdom representative said Council must consider the implications of MONUSCO’s departure for the civilian population.

“We should learn lessons from previous peacekeeping closures and make sure we don’t repeat mistakes” in DR Congo, he said, expressing support for the Mission’s geographical approach to transition as well as its conditions-based withdrawal.

The Rwandan delegate expressed disappointment that “despite having full awareness of the DRC government’s collaboration with FDLR, MONUSCO and [the Council] failed to take any substantive action.”  The proliferation of anti-Tutsi genocidal ideology — widely observed in DRC — reveals the extent of FDLR’s reach, he said, adding both FARDC and FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) consistently violated Rwanda’s territorial integrity.

The DRC representative highlighted the growing danger posed by M23/RDF (Rwanda Defence Force), a proxy of Rwanda, the activities of ADF terrorists affiliated to Da’esh and CODECO.  He rejected allegations that FDLR are a genuine military and security threat to Rwanda.

“Nobody can point to a single moment in time when the FDLR attacked Rwanda over the last five to 10 years,” he asserted, noting that such claims are often used as a pretext to further the agenda of those seeking to pillage his country’s natural resources and to fulfil their dreams of territorial extension.