UN considers abbreviated DRC mission


United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon has recommended to the Security Council that the mandate of its mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) be extended for six months instead of a full year – as is usual – in the still fragile country.

Congolese President Joseph Kabila has asked that the UN force, known as MONUC leave by coming June, when his country marks its 50th anniversary of independence from Belgium. Diplomats say he does not then still want foreign troops in his country.

Despite reports of continued violence and rights abuses in eastern DRC, Kabila’s words have struck a chord with some in the Security Council who would like to cut back the costly MONUC operation, Reuters noted, with a current total about 19 000 peacekeepers operating including about 1240 South African troops.

The DRC envoy to South Africa, Ambassador Bene M’Poko has welcomed the proposal, adding that “structures will be put in place to protect the citizens of the Congo after the MONUC mission expires.”
“It’s a good start in terms of thinking about the withdrawal of MONUC troops from the DRC. The peacekeeping force cannot be there forever. By extending the six month mandate, strategies about the withdrawal of troops will be jointly discussed with the UN.”

The council will vote on December 21. Ban said that in April 2010 he would present the council with recommendations on reconfiguring MONUC so that in June 2010, the15 nation body could draw up a new mandate on its future, including a military drawdown.
“Country at peace”

The secretary-general admitted the situation in eastern Congo “remained fragile” and that an UN-backed Congo army offensive against the Rwandan FDLR rebel group there had taken “a heavy toll on civilians” as a result of reprisals.

More than 5 million people are thought to have died, many from hunger and disease, as a result of a 1998-2003 civil war and its aftermath. It was that war that led to MONUC being sent there 10 years ago.

But Ban said that except for the two eastern Kivu provinces and pockets of other territory, Congo “is now largely a country at peace and is ready to embark on the next critical reconstruction and rebuilding phase.”

The UN says there are still around two million internal refugees in camps in eastern Congo, although hundreds of thousands have been able to return home this year.

UN diplomats point to a rapprochement early this year between Congo and neighbouring Rwanda that they say has changed the political dynamics in the region and led to the disbanding of a dangerous rebel militia in eastern Congo, the CNDP.

The talk of winding down MONUC comes, ironically, as the force is still building up to its maximum strength.

Diplomats and UN officials say the withdrawal of MONUC from Congo will have to be done slowly, and is unlikely to take less than two years.

The long-term plan is to have a gradual shift away from peacekeepers to civilian experts focusing on reconstruction, security sector reform and fighting corruption.