UN council seen backing special forces for DRC

The United Nations Security Council will probably authorise deployment of some special forces and new military hardware to help UN troops better protect civilians from increasing violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, diplomats said.

Earlier this month Alan Doss, head of the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Monuc), asked the Security Council for more troops, including forces with special skills and training, as well as drones and other military hardware that can improve Monuc’s intelligence gathering capabilities.

Doss’s request was in response to heavy fighting between government forces and Tutsi rebels led by renegade General Laurent Nkunda, which erupted in the DRC’s North Kivu province nearly two months ago, dealing a serious blow to an eight-month peace process in the province.

Several diplomats on the council said the 15-nation body was almost certain to approve Doss’s request for some special forces and additional military hardware.

It was not clear what kind of special forces Doss wanted, though one UN official said they would not be ”Hollywood-style” hit-and-run combat units.

Security Council diplomats also said that Doss might be able to convince the council to temporarily lift the ceiling on the number of troops in Monuc, though some of the 15 member states might require some heavy persuasion.

With 17 000 troops and police, Monuc is the largest UN peacekeeping force in the world.

Worsening violence
The council’s willingness to consider Doss’s request for more resources for Monuc at a time when UN peacekeeping resources are stretched thinly shows how worrisome the situation in eastern DRC has become, diplomats say.

”For the moment we approved the restructuring within the current ceiling of troops,” French Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert told reporters on Thursday.

”He wants some more intelligence [capabilities], he wants some special forces and he wants some more tactical support,” he said. ”We will consider that.”

Ripert said the final decision on whether and how to strengthen and expand the mission will likely fall in two months, when the council plans to renew Monuc’s mandate.

In the meantime, the council unanimously agreed to ask UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to provide it with specific recommendations on what Monuc needs.

The DRC has made clear it would like Monuc’s capabilities strengthened as soon as possible to help deter what it sees as an increased threat from Nkunda and from neighboring Rwanda, which Kinshasa accused of making an incursion into Congolese territory earlier this month. Kigali denied the allegation.

In addition to hardware like unmanned drones, which can be used to track down militants across the vast expanse of eastern DRC, UN officials and council diplomats say it is important for Monuc to have highly trained soldiers at its disposal that can be mobilised quickly and are not afraid of a firefight.

There have been reports of Monuc peacekeepers fleeing from firefights, several diplomats and UN officials said.

”You need to have some troops who are not afraid of an occasional bullet whizzing past them,” one official said. – Reuters

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Louis Charbonneau
Louis Charbonneau is a UN director

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