afrol News, 13 April - The UN peacekeeping mission MONUC has announced it will start pulling out from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) already in July. The UN pullout comes after a request from the Kinshasa government.
The top UN official in the DRC told the UN Security Council today that the first stage of withdrawing blue helmets from the country by July - as requested by government - would be "operationally feasible." However, the safety of civilians under threat from militias and criminals would suffer from the pullout.
"Violence against civilians is increasingly perpetrated by criminal elements in North and South Kivu [provinces], which points to the need for an enhanced police presence to secure public order," said MONUC leader Alan Doss.
He noted that a "large number of internally displaced persons, high levels of sexual violence against women and attacks on humanitarian workers" in the Kivus and parts of Orientale province were of "deep concern" to MONUC. However, close to 1 million displaced had already returned home and the economic tempo in several territories of the Kivus has picked up, Mr Doss added.
The national army, backed by MONUC peacekeepers, had been fighting mainly Rwandan Hutu rebels and a collection of other insurgent groups in the eastern provinces of North and South Kivu. MONUC, which has been in Congo Kinshasa since 1999, is working to restore order across the vast country, but tensions persist in the east and north-east.
"MONUC is in the process of preparing a drawdown of troops, which will begin by 30 June," Mr Doss confirmed today. The date had been recommended by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, after pressure from the Congolese President, Joseph Kabila.
The current plan includes withdrawing 2,000 UN troops from the 20,000-strong peacekeeping force by June. The UN Security Council is to travel on an official visit to Congo on Friday to plan for the withdrawal. MONUC and Congolese authorities further foresee a joint review the security situation in September and again in March next year, "to plan subsequent phases," according to Mr Doss.
The UN originally did have no plans to scale down its Congolese operations this year given the continued conflict in eastern and north-eastern DRC. But following the request from President Kabila, MONUC and the UN Secretary-General agree, at least in public, that a gradual withdrawal of blue helmets is a good option.
Mt Ki-moon in a recent report even said that, despite continued violence and human rights abuses, "Congolese authorities have made progress in restoring a measure of stability over much of the country."
However, the UN Security Council remains sceptical about a pullout of MONUC. Council members initially had planned a visit to the DRC, Rwanda and Uganda starting on Friday. But they will now only visit the DRC, "given the pressing agenda" in that country. As MONUC's mandate expires at the end of the month, the Security Council wants to make sure Kinshasa authorities accept a slow pullout of the peacekeepers.
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