The UN Security Council has agreed to withdraw up to 2,000 troops from its peacekeeping force in the Democratic Republic of Congo over the next month, but resisted pressure from Kinshasa to pledge further cuts.
AFP - The UN Security Council Friday agreed to withdraw some 2,000 peacekeepers from Democratic Republic of Congo, but put off a decision on Kinshasa's request that all troops leave by 2011.
The 15-member body unanimously adopted a resolution that "authorizes the withdrawal of up to 2,000 UN military personnel by June 30, 2010 from areas where the security situation permits."
Called MONUC, the UN force is the world's largest and most expensive peacekeeping operation with more than 20,000 personnel.
The Security Council also extended its mandate until the end of June, and agreed to rename it the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in DRC (MONUSCO) from July 1.
President Joseph Kabila has called for MONUC's complete pullout from his mineral-rich country by late 2011.
He has insisted the first contingent should depart before June 30, when the huge, central African country celebrates the 50th anniversary of its independence from Belgium.
Kabila, elected president in 2006 for a five-year term, appears to be trying to burnish his nationalistic credentials ahead of presidential polls scheduled for late next year.
But council diplomats and aid groups believe DRC authorities will be unable to ensure security in the east of their country, where rebels such as Rwandan Hutu rebels and Uganda's rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) are causing havoc, by the 2011 deadline.
The council resolution ruled that the renamed UN mission would be deployed until June 30, 2011 and will comprise a maximum of 19,815 military personnel, 760 military observers, 391 police personnel and 1,050 members of formed police units.
UN peacekeeping supremo Alain Le Roy told reporters that the change of name for the mission was meant to show that "there's a new phase in the Congo and the situation has improved."
As an example, he said that thanks to MONUC, more than two million internally displaced persons have returned to the northeastern DRC region of Ituri.
The council decided that future reconfigurations of MONUSCO should be determined by what is happening on the ground and a set of strategic goals.
These objectives include the protection of civilians, including against rampant sexual violence by rebels and militias mainly in the east of the country, and consolidating state authority across the country.
Le Roy, the French head of UN peacekeeping operations, said that after June 30, 2011, "there will be a joint assessment with Congolese authorities to decide on any further withdrawals.
The DRC drawdown came three days after the council decided to withdraw a 4,375-strong UN force from Chad and neighboring Central African Republic despite concern about the protection of civilians in the region.
The council ordered the withdrawal of the force known as MINURCAT, which was requested by Chad, to be completed by the end of the year.
Le Roy said the twin decisions on MINURCAT and MONUC did not appear to signal a growing trend across Africa, although in both cases they appeared linked to a bid by the host countries to assert their sovereignty 50 years after they gained their independence from their European colonial masters.
The council also empowered the UN mission in DRC, "while concentrating its military forces in the east of the country, to keep a reserve force capable of redeploying rapidly elsewhere in the country."
It stressed the protection of civilians must be the priority and authorized MONUSCO "to use all necessary means" to carry out its protection mandate.
UN troops are particularly active in the two eastern Kivu provinces, providing support to government forces battling Rwandan Hutu rebels, some of whom have been based in eastern DRC since fleeing their own country after the Rwandan genocide of 1994.
The Hutu rebels are accused both of taking part in the genocide of about 800,000 minority Tutsis in Rwanda and of atrocities against the population in eastern DRC, where some Congolese government troops are also accused of widespread human rights abuses.
MONUC was initially deployed in 2001 when the DRC was still in the grips of a 1998-2003 war that embroiled the armies of more than half a dozen other African countries.
Although ranked among the world's poorest countries, DRC, with a population of 68 million, is blessed with a cornucopia of natural resources and prized mineral wealth, including copper, cobalt, gold, coltan (a highly sought after metallic ore used in consumer electronics), tin and zinc.
Date created : 2010-05-28