/ 9 December 2009

UN faces tough choice in DRC

The United Nations Security Council faces a major headache in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where it must extend but perhaps also rethink the mandate of a much-criticised UN peacekeeping force.

Several council diplomats described a ”very difficult debate” on the extension of Monuc’s mandate, which is due to take place December 21.

At issue is whether the world body should continue its support for the controversial ”Kimia 2” offensive against Rwandan Hutu rebels in eastern DRC.

The UN force has been in the country for 10 years, but is now facing calls for its withdrawal by DRC President Joseph Kabila, complicating the question of whether its mandate should be extended for the usual one year, or just six months.

Kinshasa is insisting on a six-month extension so that by next June, which will mark the 50th anniversary of independence for the former Belgian Congo, a gradual year-long withdrawal of Monuc can begin.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon, in a report released on Tuesday, also called for a six-month extension of the mandate and said he would unveil next April recommendations for a future reconfiguration of the force to pave the way for an eventual pullout.

”We face a real dilemma: will we move toward this transition?” said France’s UN ambassador Gerard Araud.

”If the host country requests it, it is difficult to say no. But how can we ensure that this transition succeeds and does not force the international community to return a few years later?”

Araud said priority should be given to training the DRC army, police and justice personnel as well to economic development.

He added that the European Union should boost its ongoing programmes on those sectors.

DRC authorities find it hard to control their huge country, which is beset by several armed groups active on its eastern border, an undisciplined army and crumbling infrastructure after years of war and mismanagement.

About two million people are believed to have been killed in 10 years of warfare, according to NGOs.

A diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, pointed to a certain ”fatigue” within the 15-member council in the face of a crisis that has mobilised about 20 000 UN peacekeepers at a cost of about $1,3-billion a year.

”There is a strong temptation to accept Kabila’s request,” he added.

”We would be happy to pull out if we were confident that the DRC forces are not going to rape and pillage in the Kivus,” said another council diplomat.

In the short term, the council will have to decide whether to stick to Monuc’s current mandate or whether to change it to take into account the stinging criticism of the Kimia 2 operation levelled by UN experts.

In a report for the Security Council, independent experts said this year’s attempts by Congolese, Rwandan and UN forces to disarm Rwandan Hutu rebels in eastern DRC failed and even worsened the humanitarian crisis in the Kivus.

The report alleges that the rebel Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) recruits and arms fighters using profits from a corrupt international trade in minerals, and calls on the international community to step up efforts to cut off rebel funds.

The militia sprang up in camps in the eastern DRC housing mainly ethnic Hutu refugees who fled Rwanda after their leaders launched the 1994 genocide, which left about 800 000 people dead.

Meanwhile, a UN special rapporteur also accused the DRC army of perpetrating atrocities against civilians in the war zones.

”One the one hand, the UN secretariat says Monuc support to Kimia 2 is essential, that the FDLR is on the run and that as a consequence the situation is improving on the ground, on the other hand, NGOs say that the DRC army we support is committing intolerable atrocities,” a council diplomat said. — Sapa-AFP