UN considers short renewal of Congo force mandate
By Patrick Worsnip
UNITED NATIONS Dec 8 (Reuters) - U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon has recommended that the mandate of peacekeepers in Congo be extended by just six months instead of the usual year as the force considers a drawdown in the still turbulent country.
President Joseph Kabila is pressing the world body to start winding down MONUC, the world's largest U.N. peacekeeping force, by mid-2010 when Congo marks the 50th anniversary of independence from Belgium. Diplomats say he does not want his country to appear to be still propped up by foreign troops.
Despite reports of continued violence and rights abuses in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, the diplomats say Kabila's words have struck a chord with some in the Security Council who would like to cut back the costly MONUC operation.
In a report to the council made public on Tuesday, Ban proposed it extend MONUC's mandate just until June 30, 2010, to allow U.N. talks with Kinshasa on critical tasks to perform so a withdrawal would not trigger "a relapse into instability."
The council will vote on Dec. 21. Ban said that in April he would present the council with recommendations on reconfiguring MONUC so that in June the 15-nation body could draw up a new mandate on its future, including a military drawdown.
The secretary-general admitted the situation in eastern Congo "remained fragile" and that a U.N.-backed Congo army offensive against the Rwandan FDLR rebel group there had taken "a heavy toll on civilians" as a result of reprisals.
More than 5 million people are thought to have died in mineral-rich Congo, many from hunger and disease, as a result of a 1998-2003 civil war and its aftermath. It was that war that led to MONUC being sent there 10 years ago.
The U.N. says says there are still around 2 million internal refugees in camps in eastern Congo, although hundreds of thousands have been able to return home this year. Continued...