UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Congo’s foreign minister said the government has set a goal of cutting the 20,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force in the country in half by the end of the year — a much more drastic cut than the 1,700-member reduction recommended by the U.N. secretary-general.
The mandate for the Congo peacekeeping force expires later this month and it will be up to the U.N. Security Council to decide on any cuts.
Foreign Minister Raymond Tshibanda told the council on Wednesday that cutting 10,000 peacekeepers is ambitious but he said Congo hopes it can be done “without affecting security or stability.”
The U.N. chief recommended a 1,700-member cut because of the fragile security situation in the country.
The Congo conflict is a spillover from the 1994 genocide in neighboring Rwanda. Hundreds of Hutus who participated in the mass slaughter escaped into Congo and still fight in the mineral-rich and volatile east, along with other armed groups.
In February 2013, the Congolese government and 10 other African nations including Rwanda and Uganda took the most concerted action to bring peace to Congo by signing an agreement not to interfere in each other’s internal affairs or host armed groups. The Security Council followed up by beefing up the U.N. force with an Intervention Brigade and authorizing the use of unarmed drones on a trial basis for intelligence gathering in the east.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned Monday of possible election-related violence in Congo, where a sharp increase in tribal and inter-ethnic conflicts have also been seen in recent months.
Congo is scheduled to hold elections in November but the opposition worries that President Joseph Kabila, meant to leave office in December, will postpone the election timeline to stay in power.
U.N. special envoy Maman Sidikou told the Security Council that “credible and meaningful political dialogue is needed to overcome the impasse in the electoral process.”
He urged U.N. support for a revision of the voters’ registry and said he counted on the council’s backing for the recommended 1,700-member cut in the U.N. peacekeeping force, leading to its gradual and progressive exit from Congo.
In March 2015, the council reduced the force, known as MONUSCO, by 2,000 troops.
“We never asked for a hasty or disorderly exit of the peacekeepers,” Congo’s Tshibanda said in announcing the goal of halving the force, “but we are not willing to compromise on the sovereignty of our country.”
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