January 10, 2016 / 8:19 AM / 4 years ago

Hundreds of Congolese troops withdraw from Central African force

BANGUI (Reuters) - Hundreds of peacekeepers from Democratic Republic of Congo on a U.N. peacekeeping mission in Central African Republic will withdraw, a spokesman said on Saturday, after they failed an internal assessment.

A Democratic Republic of Congo soldier from the African peacekeeping forces stands near closed shops in Bangui February 20, 2014. REUTERS/Luc Gnago/Files

The historically turbulent former French colony suffered an intensification of violence in 2013 when mostly Muslim rebels known as Seleka seized power in a coup.

Since then, militias drawn from the Christian majority have launched reprisal attacks and thousands of people have been killed and around a million displaced despite efforts by U.N. and French peacekeepers to restore order.

“It is confirmed that the Congolese unit will withdraw from MINUSCA,” said Vladimir Monteiro, spokesman for the U.N. mission in Central African Republic. “The contingent will leave and not be replaced.”

Asked about whether the withdrawal could jeopardise security, Monteiro declined to give an immediate comment, saying a further announcement would be made next week.

In August, three Congolese peacekeepers in Central African Republic were accused of raping three female civilians, including one minor. Congolese Justice Minister Alexis Thambwe said at the time the allegations would be investigated.

It was not immediately clear whether such allegations were the main factor behind the decision to withdraw Congolese troops. A U.N. spokesperson in New York earlier said that the U.N. review of Congolese troops assessed the equipment, the vetting procedures and overall preparedness of the contingent.

This month, the U.N. said it was investigating new allegations of sexual abuse of minors by peacekeepers.

According to the U.N. peacekeeping website, there are 809 Congolese troops and 123 police deployed as part of the 11,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping mission in Central African Republic, known as MINUSCA.

Paris also plans to draw down its troops in the country, which originally numbered around 2,000, once a transition back to democracy is complete.

A run-off presidential vote is due on January 31, with former prime minister Anicet Georges Dologuele placing first in the initial round without securing an outright majority.

Reporting by Crispin Dembassa-Kette; Writing by Emma Farge; Editing by Tom Heneghan

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