UN extends mandate for peacekeepers in Congo

The UN Security Council has unanimously renewed the mandate of its peacekeeping mission in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo for a year. The mission, known as MONUC, is due to receive an additional 3,000 peacekeepers.



REUTERS - The Security Council on Monday renewed the mandate of hard-pressed U.N. peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo with terms diplomats said would help them fight rebels independently of Congo's army.


The United Nations is trying to address fresh violence in eastern Congo, where the U.N. force, known as MONUC, has been criticized by some rights groups for failing to protect civilians from the warring parties.


U.N. officials have countered that the 17,000-strong force is stretched thin in Congo, which is the size of western Europe, and is limited by its mandate. The Security Council last month approved an extra 3,000 peacekeepers.


Monday's resolution extends MONUC's mandate until the end of 2009. Diplomats said the text beefed up last year's resolution by saying the force should work "in close cooperation with" Congo's government, rather than "support" the Congolese army, making the mandate more robust.


U.N. officials and rights groups have said Congo's army failed to resist an offensive launched in eastern Congo in August by Tutsi rebels led by Gen. Laurent Nkunda, and that some soldiers committed atrocities against civilians.


"The new resolution makes it possible for MONUC to act independently against armed groups. This is important because the (Congolese army) in its present status cannot be the sole foundation for the strategy against armed groups," Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht told the council.


"It can now also take action if uncontrolled elements of the (Congolese army) are at the source of violent acts against the population."


Another clause in the resolution instructs MONUC to increasingly focus its action on the eastern part of Congo. The force's leadership has argued in the past that it has to spread itself evenly around all potential trouble spots.




More than a quarter of a million civilians have been been driven from their homes since Nkunda's offensive began, with widespread reports of murder, rape and looting. More than 5 million people have died since the beginning of a 1998-2003 war in the region.


In a separate resolution on Monday, the Security Council renewed and expanded the scope of sanctions, such as travel bans and asset freezes, against people deemed to support rebels in eastern Congo.


Also included are those who obstruct access to, or distribution of, aid in the area, or who support rebels through illicit trade in natural resources. No new names were added immediately to the existing sanctions list, diplomats said.


Eastern Congo is rich in minerals like gold, cassiterite (tin ore) and coltan, which sparked the conflicts and fueled them, experts say.


The Security Council debate was marked by verbal clashes between Congo and neighboring Rwanda after Rwanda's ambassador made comments seen as sympathetic to Nkunda's rebellion, which Rwanda has denied supporting.


Ambassador Joseph Nsengimana said Nkunda's rise reflected Congo's failure to deal with a different rebel group, including Hutu fighters formerly involved in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda of Tutsis and moderate Hutus.


"The failure of the (Congolese army) to protect its citizens certainly justifies Nkunda's claim of being a protector of his Congolese Tutsi community," Nsengimana said. Rwanda's government is Tutsi-led.


Speaking for Congo, Foreign Minister Alexis Thambe Mwamba called Nsengimana's speech "excessive." He said eastern Congo's conflicts had been imported from Rwanda and that Nkunda was endangering his own Tutsi ethnic group by his actions.





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