UN sees Congo troops withdrawn over three years


The United Nations has prepared a plan for a three-year phased withdrawal of the world body’s biggest peacekeeping force from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, according to a UN report released stated.

The government of the sprawling, mineral-rich Central African country has called for the 22 000 UN peacekeepers in the country, known as MONUC, to depart Congo sooner — in 2011.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s latest report to the Security Council says President Joseph Kabila had asked the United Nations to submit a proposal by June — the 50th anniversary of the country’s independence from Belgium — for withdrawing MONUC.

UN diplomats have said privately that Kabila is eager to demonstrate before next year’s elections that he is not dependent on UN blue helmets to provide security. But Ban made clear that Congo’s army and police are not yet up to the task in the country’s turbulent east.
“The (UN) technical assessment mission came to the conclusion that a continued significant presence of the MONUC force was essential in the Kivus and Orientale provinces” in eastern Congo, the report said.

The recommendation comes despite the improvement of relations between Kinshasa and neighbouring Rwanda, which have been conducting a proxy war in eastern Congo for years.

UN troops are backing government operations to oust Rwandan Hutu rebels from eastern provinces. There are also elements of the feared Ugandan rebel group known as the Lord’s Resistance Army in Congo.

The UN plan would focus on training Congo’s troops and includes a three-year phased withdrawal of MONUC, Ban said. He called for extending MONUC’s mandate for another year.

In a clash in northern Congo earlier this week that was apparently unrelated to the conflicts with rebels in the east, UN-backed Congolese troops retook a Congolese provincial airport from rebels, following heavy weekend fighting in which at least three UN workers died.

Problems with Congo’s army

The blue-helmeted peacekeepers are deployed throughout the Congo, maintaining a UN presence launched in 1999 when a six-year war drew in neighbouring countries and claimed an estimated 5 million lives.

Human rights groups say massacres, rape, looting and other attacks on civilians continue in Congo’s east, and that armed ex-rebel groups control artisanal mining of lucrative tin and tantalum, used in telephones and camera lenses.

Ban offered a bleak assessment of the Congolese army.
“FARDC still face structural weaknesses and a lack of capacity which will continue to limit the government’s ability to adequately protect its citizens, if not effectively addressed,” the report said.

Ban described the Congolese army as “an amalgamation of unvetted, untrained former militia groups,” among others.
“Successive waves of integration of armed (rebel) groups have resulted in poor loyalty, indiscipline, and disruptions in the chain of command,” Ban said.

This difficult situation, he said, has been made worse by a lack of equipment, problems with paying soldiers and a weak military justice system.

Much of the Congo, however, is now relatively stable, the report said, adding that the Congolese army and police would be in a position to provide security in those areas.

Source: www.af.reuters.com