UN’s DRC trip dominated by peacekeepers’ exit

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A United Nations mission to Democratic Republic of Congo this weekend faces a tough task to convince the government not to press for a swift withdrawal of peacekeepers.

With celebrations of the 50th anniversary of independence this year and elections next, Congo is keen for the peacekeeping mission, known as MONUC, to start withdrawing within months and wants the last blue helmet out in 2011.

But rebels still fight a fledgling army across much of the east, and parts of the north, of the vast central African nation and gunmen from all sides commit abuses, especially rape.
“For the moment, as you know, the situation remains extremely fragile. So we have to do it right rather than to do it quickly,” Gerard Araud, France’s permanent representative to the UN, said this week of any UN withdrawal.
“MONUC won’t leave if we are not sure that the Congolese authorities are able to do the job. That’s the discussion we should have with the Congolese authorities,” Araud added.

Since its establishment in 1999, MONUC has become the world body’s largest force with 22,000 men, and assumed many of the responsibilities of the Congolese state, which was torn apart by a 1998-2003 war that killed millions.

The UN force oversaw elections in 2006 that were meant to draw a line under the war. At the polls, Joseph Kabila was elected president, a position he had held since 2001 when his father and the country’s late leader was assassinated.

However, local and Rwandan Hutu rebels still roam much of the two Kivu provinces in the east. Ugandan rebels continue to wage a campaign of terror in the remote northeast and a new rebellion has emerged in recent months in Equateur province.
“All the members of the Security Council have expressed concerns about the date of 2011,” Araud said. The world body’s peacekeeping mandates are controlled by the 15-member Security Council.
“Wake-up call”

Highlighting the insecurity in the east, UN peacekeepers had to abandon yesterday an effort to retrieve eight kidnapped aid workers after fighting broke out near the planned handover point, UN and rebel sources said.

Further evidence of the scale of abuses committed also came in a report on rape by British aid agency Oxfam, which said some 5000 women were raped in South Kivu province last year alone.
“Rape of this scale and brutality is scandalous. This is a wake-up call at a time when plans are being discussed for UN peacekeepers to leave the country,” Krista Riddley, director of humanitarian policy at Oxfam, said in a statement yesterday.
“The report shows … why peacekeepers must continue to play a vital role in creating security while the Congolese government builds up its own capacity to keep civilians from harm.”

Congo has long argued that it is working to improve the quality and discipline of its army, formed from various government, militia and rebel factions that fought in the war.

The government has touted this week’s release by its commandos of a Spanish hostage as evidence of progress.

Pic: UN peacekeeper

Source: www.af.reuters.com