UN chief seeks to boost UN police in DR Congo

Carole LANDRY
The UN has more than 15,000 peacekeepers operating in Democratic Republic of Congo who are part of the MONUSCO force

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday asked the Security Council to send an extra 320 UN police to the Democratic Republic of Congo after a deal to end a dispute over elections stalled, raising fresh fears of violence.

In a report obtained by AFP, Guterres said he was "deeply disturbed by the sharp increase in human rights violations," and argued that the new police units for the MONUSCO force would help protect civilians.

Two additional units could be deployed to the DR Congo's second city of Lubumbashi and to Kananga, "which are likely to be electoral hotspots" and where there is no UN police, he said.

"Such rapid intervention capabilities in these key urban areas would enhance the mission?s capacity to protect civilians, as well as United Nations personnel and premises, in the case of an outbreak of election-related violence," he said.

The UN chief requested 36 armored personnel carriers for UN police and said he was also considering the deployment of "intelligence assets and specialized infantry" to enhance the mission's mobility in the vast African country.

The United Nations has nearly 19,000 troops deployed in the DR Congo, its largest and costliest peacekeeping mission.

The request for more police came after US Ambassador Nikki Haley promised to review all peacekeeping missions with the aim of cutting costs and shutting some down altogether.

In his report however, Guterres argued that UN peacekeepers were needed to help the country avert a slide toward more violence.

"2017 will be a crucial year for the Democratic Republic of Congo," said Guterres in the report sent to the council on Friday.

"MONUSCO presence in the country therefore remains essential to help keep the political process on track, preserve the gains made and shore up the prospects for stability in the country," he added.

The council is scheduled to decide on possible changes to MONUSCO's mandate on March 29.

- Stalled political deal -

After months of violence, the influential Catholic Church brokered a deal in late December that would have paved the way for elections and possibly an end to President Joseph Kabila's rule.

Kabila's second and final constitutional term ended on December 19.

Guterres said the political deal remained "stalled," with a dispute over the appointment of a new prime minister emerging as a major obstacle.

The risk of violence is "increasing, and is expected to rise further the longer the implementation of the political agreement remains stalled, prolonging the current political uncertainty," he said.

MONUSCO has documented 5,190 human rights violations across the country last year, a 30-per-cent increase from 2015, said the report.

DR Congo security forces were responsible for 64 percent of those violations, which include the extra-judicial killing of 480 civilians.

"The national police remained the main perpetrators of human rights violations, totaling 1,553 abuses," said the report.

This represents an increase in the number of cases of police violence of 30 percent from 2016, and of 65 percent from 2015.

Last year, former UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon had proposed cutting 1,700 troops from MONUSCO, but the Security Council decided against the drawdown.

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