The United Nations will pull 2000 peacekeepers out of Congo by end-June but propose that the remaining 20 000 leave only when security improves, France’s ambassador to Congo says.
Congo wants the UN to begin winding down the force known as MONUC by June 30, when the vast central African state will mark the 50th anniversary of independence from Belgium, aiming to show the world it is putting its painful past behind it.
But UN officials have warned a hasty pullout could undermine humanitarian efforts and lead to an escalation of rebel violence against civilians.
“We are going to answer the Congolese government’s demand for a progressive withdrawal of MONUC,” French envoy Pierre Jacquemot told Reuters in an interview.
“This will take the form of the withdrawal of 2,000 troops by June 30, and then a progressive disengagement based on the evolution of the security risk facing the country.”
Jacquemot said the United Nations was likely to propose that those security risks and benchmarks for further withdrawal be assessed by a joint UN-Congo commission.
The full proposal will be delivered to President Joseph Kabila’s goverment by a French-led delegation of the United Nations Security Council during a visit on May 15, pending approval of all the members of the delegation, he said.
Congolese government spokesman Lambert Mende confirmed Congo would accept the withdrawal of 2000 peacekeepers by the end of June. “That is a proposition that has been accepted by both sides,” he said.
But he said he could not comment on whether the government would accept the UN’s conditions for further withdrawal.
UN peacekeepers have been in Congo since a 1998-2003 war that killed millions, and the force has since grown into the world’s largest international peacekeeping mission.
MONUC is backing Congo forces against myriad insurgencies in the country, including Rwandan Hutu rebels in the eastern Kivu provinces and an ethnically charged uprising in northern Equateur province that has triggered a refugee crisis in neighbouring Congo Republic.
Kinshasa has said its own forces will be ready to fill the gap left by MONUC’s withdrawal despite allegations by human rights activists that the army is guilty of raping and killing civilians it is meant to protect.
Jacquemot was speaking in the north-eastern town of Kisangani on his way to tour areas affected by rebels of the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army further north.
He said MONUC may be renamed to include an “S” in the acronym as the organisation is refocused on security and stabilization.
“The mission of ‘MONUSCO’ will be focused on essential tasks: the protection of the population and the stabilization of peace,” he said.