9 April 2008

Congo-Kinshasa: Monuc Protecting Civilians Against FDLR - UN

Kigali — The UN Mission in DR Congo forces have significantly increased military presence in the North and South Kivu to ensure the Rwandan extremist rebels do not pillage villages, rape and recruit children, the UN Security Council has heard.

By April 2008, according to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the forces - also known as MONUC will have redeployed some 2,000 additional personnel to eastern DRC provinces of North Kivu and approximately 850 additional troops to South Kivu.

Mr. Ban told the Council yesterday in his latest report on the UN mission in the country that it has deployed mobile operating bases to expand its presence in areas where FDLR is undermining legitimate authority and exploiting both local populations and natural resources.

MONUC planning for joint operations with the Congolese army against FDLR has been under way since November 2007, the Council heard. The resulting joint concept, which allows for a two-phased, progressive approach, was endorsed by President Kabila in March.

The first phase will involve designated FARDC battalions establishing a presence in FDLR areas with the support of the 17.000-strong MONUC force that has been in the country since 2005.

"As necessary, FARDC would thereafter undertake targeted operations against recalcitrant FDLR components. Such operations would be synchronized with actions resulting from the implementation of the statements of commitment." Mr. Ban told the 15-member Council.

In the North Kivu province, there are three indian battalions composed of about 1700 troops and another similar size of Pakistanis in the South Kivu. The others are deployed in other provinces - with the largest in Kinshasa.

The largest depolyments, acording to MONUC figures is in the Eastern Division that covers the north east, east and south east of the vast country - with up to 14.000 troops. These are however, operating in different provinces.

The Secretary General also reported that the FDLR, General Laurent Nkunda's rebel forces and the Mayi-Mayi militias are still forcefully recruiting children.

Mr. Ban also warned that MONUC resources, are "stretched to the limit, creating risks in areas of potential and rising tension, including in Bas-Congo and elsewhere."

"The Mission's current force levels do not reflect the critical role MONUC is expected to play under the Goma and Nairobi processes," Mr. Ban says, referring to the recent agreements reached between the Governments of DRC and Rwanda and the armed groups operating in the volatile far east, especially North Kivu and South Kivu provinces.

"I intend to keep the situation under close review and may revert to the Council with recommendations to ensure that the Mission's military and civilian deployments correspond to its mandated tasks."

The Kivus have long been a source of instability in the DRC, even after the official end of the civil war in 2003, and Mr. Ban reiterates that the region still has the potential to undermine the stability of the rest of the country.

"Long-term stability in the Kivus will depend on many interlinked factors," he writes, citing the need for State authority to be fully extended across the two provinces and for a "substantially strengthened" national army, known as FARDC, which is also professional, well-structured and respectful of international humanitarian and human rights law.

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