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UN starts looking toward the end of peacekeeping in Congo

March 30, 2019

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The Security Council on Friday called for a strategic review of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo with a view to progressively handing over its responsibilities to the country’s newly elected government led by President Felix Tshisekedi.

A resolution adopted unanimously by the council asks Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to provide members with an independent review by Oct. 20 “assessing the continued challenges to peace and security ... and articulating a phased, progressive and comprehensive exit strategy.”

The resolution extended the mandate of the more than 18,000-strong peacekeeping mission in Congo — the U.N.’s biggest and most expensive, with a budget over $1.1 billion — until Dec. 20 with a priority mandate of protecting civilians and supporting “the stabilization and strengthening of state institutions.”

It maintained the current troop and international police levels, though Guterres had recommended cuts in a report to the council earlier this month.

The Security Council commended the Congolese people for their conduct during the Dec. 30 election, which led Congo to its first peaceful transfer of power since independence from Belgium nearly 60 years ago. Tshisekedi succeeded Joseph Kabila, who governed the largely impoverished but mineral-rich central African country for 18 years.

The council also welcomed Tshisekedi’s preliminary actions to end restrictions on “political space,” especially the arbitrary and arrest of opposition and civil society members and restrictions on fundamental freedoms including freedom of expression, freedom of the press and the right to peaceful assembly.

But the Security Council also expressed deep concern at the security and humanitarian crisis in Congo, “exacerbated by destabilizing activities of foreign and domestic armed groups” and “persistent high levels of violence and violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law.”

The United States, which announced it December that it was unilaterally cutting its share of the U.N. peacekeeping budget from 28.5 percent to 25 percent, has been looking to reduce the size and cost of many missions.

Kabila had repeatedly called for the U.N. peacekeeping force known as MONUSCO to leave — without success, leading to uneasy relations with the United Nations. Tshisekedi also wants a plan for the U.N. force to leave but has offered to cooperate with the world body.

The resolution adopted Friday asks Guterres to make recommendations in consultation with Congo’s government, U.N. agencies, member states, regional organizations and independent experts “for realistic, relevant and clearly measurable benchmarks” for a withdrawal and timelines for their implementation.

It also asks the secretary-general to come up with options for reconfiguring MONUSCO’s civilian, police and military components during implementation of the exit strategy.

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