UN decides against drawdown of DR Congo peacekeepers

Blue helmet members of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, MONUSCO, have been in the country since 1999 (AFP Photo/ALAIN WANDIMOYI)

United Nations (United States) (AFP) - The United Nations on Wednesday decided against cutting back its peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo as fears grow of political turmoil in the vast African country ahead of elections.

The UN Security Council unanimously adopted a French-drafted resolution extending for one year the 20,000-strong MONUSCO mission, rejecting appeals from Kinshasa for a drawdown of the force.

The DR Congo's foreign minister told the council last week that the force should be halved and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had proposed cutting 1,700 troops from the mission.

French Ambassador Francois Delattre said the council had refused to downsize the mission because "the country still faces very important challenges and it is the responsibility of the international community to support it at this time."

The DRC is supposed to hold elections in November, but the chances that they will actually take place are growing dimmer, with President Joseph Kabila suspected of planning to extend his rule after his mandate runs out at the end of the year.

Congolese Ambassador Ignace Gata Mavita charged that the council showed "a lack of flexibility" over its refusal to downsize MONUSCO and warned the decision could undermine the "climate of work on the ground".

The resolution stated that the council would be ready to reconsider the troop level for MONUSCO "once significant progress has been achieved" in rooting out rebel groups in the east and protecting civilians.

The French ambassador said the mission at its current force level would help protect civilians and "support the holding of credible, peaceful and democratic elections".

After several disagreements with Kinshasa over the campaign against rebels in the east, the United Nations withdrew support for military operations in February last year, but decided to restore ties earlier this month.

The return of UN military backing to the Congolese army was agreed during Ban's visit to Kinshasa earlier this month.

UN officials are pushing for the disarming of dozens of rebel and splinter groups after two decades of conflict in the eastern DR Congo, much of it fueled by the lucrative trade in minerals.