- As a result of DR Congo's request for a withdrawal of the UN peacekeeping forces from the country by June 2011, plans are already being made for a downscaling of troops June this year. Human rights groups express outrage at the plans.
The Kinshasa government this week told the UN peacekeeping for in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), known as MONUC, the operation should be terminated by June 2011. The request came after MONUC's popularity has fallen due to its inability to defend Congolese civilians against human rights abuses and military attacks.
MONUC is the largest UN peacekeeping operation worldwide. Some 20,500 UN troops are in the DRC, mostly deployed in the vast country's eastern region since 1999.
On Wednesday, MONUC chief Alain Le Roy entered discussions with Kinshasa authorities, aimed at agreeing on a timetable for the withdrawal. It was agreed that the first troops should be pulled out already by June this year.
According to Mr Le Roy, "MONUC's withdrawal may be quickly achieved" in two zones that are not affected by the conflicts in eastern Congo. By mid-2010, UN troops would therefore only be deployed in Congo's troubled eastern region. During the next phase, MONUC and authorities would seek a way for a "progressive withdrawal, starting June 2010."
The quick and surprising decision to start downscaling MONUC already has caused shock among human rights groups, seeing the UN troops as one of the few institutions protecting Congolese civilians against abuse.
In response, Amnesty International today said it "strongly opposes any withdrawal or reduction of the numbers of UN peacekeepers" from the DRC. "Instead of requiring the peacekeepers to leave, the government should work with the UN in resolving the many protection challenges that remain," said Tawanda Hondora from the human rights group.
Massacres, rape, looting and other attacks on the civilian population and humanitarian agencies by armed forces and groups continued unabated in eastern Congo, Amnesty held. MONUC "remains the only force in the DRC capable of providing a measure of protection to the civilian population," its statement added.
"The security and human rights situation has remained dire over the past year. Withdrawing or reducing the peacekeeping force could have disastrous consequences," said Tawanda Hondora. "UN peacekeeping bases are often the only places where people can seek safety when clashes occur."
Other groups have also expressed concern that a UN withdrawal by 2011 is "premature" due to the poor standards of the Congolese army. There are widespread fears that Hutu and other rebel groups may gain an even stronger foothold in eastern Congo without MONUC's support to the Congolese army. New rounds of civil war could emerge.
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