UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The Security Council on Friday authorized the withdrawal of up to 2,000 troops from the U.N. peacekeeping force in Congo in the next month but made no pledge on further cuts despite pressure from Kinshasa.
Potential investors and human rights groups fear a too hasty withdrawal of the 20,500-member MONUC force would trigger more violence in a country struggling to recover from a 1998-2003 war and which is still battling rebels across its territory.
But Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila wants the force out by next year for what U.N. officials say are reasons of national pride.
A resolution passed unanimously by the 15-nation Security Council authorized “the withdrawal of up to 2,000 United Nations military personnel by 30 June 2010 from areas where the security situation permits.”
The resolution extended the mandate of MONUC — currently the largest U.N. peace force anywhere in the world — until the end of June, and said it would then be renamed MONUSCO, a French acronym adding the word “stabilization” to its title.
MONUSCO was authorized to stay in Congo for an additional year, and the council said future reductions in the force would be determined by conditions on the ground.
Congo’s government is battling guerrilla groups including the Rwandan Hutu FDLR and the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army in the turbulent east.
Aid workers say Congolese army troops, as well as guerrilla groups, have committed atrocities, including murders, rapes and robberies, on civilians in eastern Congo, where competition to exploit valuable minerals combines with ethnic tensions.
The United Nations will also monitor how well government troops can protect the country’s population.
The council was determined to avoid a security vacuum that could spawn more violence in the country, the resolution said.
The resolution was passed at a brief council meeting. Aid group Oxfam said the United Nations should be cautious about reducing the number of its peacekeepers in Congo.
“Many parts of Congo are still extremely insecure and violence is a daily threat,” said Marcel Stoessel, head of Oxfam in Congo. “Any reduction in peacekeepers could be bad news for ordinary Congolese, women and men. Congo needs each peacekeeper that it has, every pair of boots counts.”