Budget pressure forces UN scaleback in DR Congo

Kinshasa (AFP) - The United Nations mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo, one of the biggest UN peacekeeping operations, will be scaled back because of budget pressure, it said on Tuesday.

The mission, known as MONUSCO, will close down representations or offices in Matadi, Mbandaka, Bandundu and Mbuji-Mayi in eastern DRC; in Lubumbashi and Kamina in the southeast; and in Dungu, in the northeast.

These will be closed by June 30, although the military component of the mission will be unchanged, MONUSCO chief Leila Zerrougui said.

MONUSCO has proposed reducing expenditure for the July 1 2019-June 30 2020 budgetary year by $100 million (89 million euros). The current budget is $1.194 billion.

Zerrougui said MONUSCO would maintain its presence in the conflict-torn east, where armed groups control swathes of territory, and in the Kasai region in the centre, where there has been fierce fighting between government forces and the Kamwina Nsapu militia.

"The armed groups... are in Ituri, they are in Kivu, they are in Tanganyika, they are in the two Kasai (provinces)," she was quoted as telling a press conference on Monday.

MONUSCO -- the UN Organization Stabilisation Mission in the DR Congo -- took over from a UN peace operation called MONUC that was established in 1999 as the vast country grappled with a bloody regional war.

According to the MONUSCO website, as of September 2017, the mission had more than 16,000 military personnel, as well as 425 military observers, 187 military staff officers and nearly 1,400 police.

On the civilian side, it lists more than 4,100 civilian employees, comprising 910 international staff, 505 UN volunteers and nearly 2,800 locals.

Zerrougui said that the UN radio station Okapi -- one of the most important sources of news in the DRC -- would continue to broadcast, despite the closures.

The UN Security Council last month approved a nine-month extension to MONUSCO's mandate.

Last year, in the midst of the tense campaigning for the DRC presidential elections, outgoing head of state Joseph Kabila had demanded MONUSCO leave the country in 2020.

His successor, Felix Tshisekedi, has spoken in favour of a progressive departure.

DRC Congo's own armed forces are beset by many problems, ranging from poor training and motivation to corruption and antiquated equipment.