UN to deploy further 3,000 peacekeepers

The UN Security Council has unanimously passed a resolution to boost its peacekeeping force in the Democratic Republic of Congo by a further 3,000. This brings the total number of troops to more than 20,000.


The UN Security Council approved Thursday an extra 3,000 peacekeeping troops to help end conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where fresh fighting erupted earlier in the day.

Its decision in New York came hours after new clashes between rebels and pro-government Mai-Mai militia outside Kiwanja -- scene of fierce fighting earlier this month in which at least 50 civilians were killed.

In its resolution, the Security Council said the length of deployment of the additional 2,785 military personnel and 300 police officers to the UN mission in Congo (MONUC) would hinge on the security situation.

"This temporary increase in personnel aims at enabling MONUC to reinforce its capacity to protect civilians, to reconfigure its structure and forces and to optimise their deployment," it said.

It went on to underscore "the importance of MONUC implementing its mandate in full, including through robust rules of engagement," in the resolution sponsored by France, which has long-standing interest in central Africa.

MONUC, the biggest UN peacekeeping mission in the world, already has 17,000 troops in Congo -- a number that UN officials regarded as insufficient to deal with an escalating conflict in a region teeming with natural resources.

Five thousand of those UN troops are in Nord-Kivu where fighting flared at the end of August.

"It's very good news," said Lieutenant Colonel Jean-Paul Dietrich after the Security Council decision.

"It will give us some capability to react much faster to any major crisis" and to provide a humanitarian corridor if there is any major flux of refugees, he explained.

Rebels from the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) led by Laurent Nkunda remain on the threshold of Goma, the main city in the east of Congo and capital of Nord-Kivu province.

On the diplomatic front, the Angolan foreign ministry said Congo President Joseph Kabila will visit Luanda on Friday to meet with Angola's leader Jose Eduardo dos Santos to discuss the conflict.

Angola last week denied it plans to send troops to Congo to fight alongside government forces.

Thursday's fighting erupted in the morning in Katoro and Nyongera, both villages on the northern outskirts of Kiwanja in Nord-Kivu province.

By mid-day, an AFP correspondent in the area reported that the sound of heavy weapons firing had ceased, as the Mai-Mai accused UN troops of fighting alongside the rebels.

"MONUC fired on our forces, they found themselves in difficulty and called for help to the CNDP," said Mai-Mai spokesman Didier Bitaki. "It is a CNDP/MONUC coalition against the Mai-Mai."

MONUC denied the charge and classified the flare-up as "a minor incident."

Dietrich said the Mai-Mai turned "and went back the way they came" after Indian UN forces "negotiated" with them.

On Wednesday, UN peacekeepers opened fire on the Mai-Mai fighters after two UN armoured cars on patrol came under Mai-Mai gunfire.

In another development Thursday, MONUC chief Alan Doss accused the rebels of serious violations of human rights, in a letter to Nkunda seen by AFP.

"MONUC has catalogued the execution of a 21-year-old on November 15 and the executions of two civilians on November 16 by elements of your forces in Kiwanja," wrote Doss, who also cited kidnappings and disappearances.

Nkunda was asked to "take all appropriate measures... to put an end to these (violations)" and "mount a detailed enquiry in order to identify the authors of these odious crimes."

Thursday's fighting came a day after Nkunda's rebels pulled back 30 to 40 kilometres (20 to 25 miles) from two other fronts in Nord-Kivu, at points away from the current fighting.

They did so, they said, in order to "give peace a chance" and to help mediation efforts undertaken by the UN envoy for Congo, former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo.

In Kigali, Britain's junior foreign minister for Africa Mark Malloch-Brown called on Rwandan President Paul Kagame on Thursday "to use his influence" over Nkunda's rebels to end the fighting.

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