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UN chief seeks to beef up DR Congo mission

Xinhua | Updated: 2013-02-28 16:45

UNITED NATIONS - UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has proposed the formation of a new "intervention brigade" to help end two decades of strife in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The move follows Sunday's signing of a UN-backed peace agreement involving the DRC and its neighbors.

In a report submitted to the UN Security Council Wednesday, Ban called for the establishment of the force as part of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) for an initial period of one year.

He said it would have "peace enforcement tasks", prevent the expansion of armed groups, and neutralize and disarm them.

"The intervention brigade would carry out targeted offensive operations, either on its own" or with the DRC government forces "in a robust, highly mobile and versatile manner", the UN chief said.

The brigade should be composed of three infantry battalions, an artillery battery, and a special forces company, with two attack helicopters, four utility choppers, and "deployment of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS)", he said.

Last month, the UN Security Council approved the trial use in Africa of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) for surveillance purposes. The unarmed vehicles -- dubbed "drones" in the United States -- were to be used on a case-by-case basis. The UN refers to UAVs as UAS.

The United Nations has more than 17,700 UN peacekeepers and more than 1,400 international police in the conflict-torn DRC, the second largest nation on the continent after Algeria, with an estimated population of more than 70 million.

Ban, in the report, also urged DRC's neighbors to honor their commitments in Sunday's peace accord, including not to interfere in the internal affairs of the central African nation.

The DRC and 10 other nations in Africa's Great Lakes region signed the agreement in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, under which a 4,000- strong international neutral force will be deployed to the DRC to counter armed rebel groups, such as the March 23 Movement (M23).

The UN chief reiterated that providing external support to any of the armed groups operating in eastern DRC "is an unacceptable violation" of sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Central African country and threatens the overall stability and development of the Great Lakes region.

"Ongoing support to armed groups by neighboring countries continues to be a source of serious instability and should have tangible consequences for the perpetrators," he said, without naming countries aiding the rebels.

Ban said the M23 rebellion underscored the continuing fragility of the situation in eastern DRC.

But he said the peace accord offered an opportunity for key nations to collectively address the underlying causes of the conflict in eastern DRC and the surrounding Great Lakes region, "and to break the pattern of recurring cycles of violence".

The current crisis unfolded when the M23 launched attacks in April last year and captured the eastern provincial capital of Goma in November.

"Thriving in the security vacuum created by the absence of effective state authority in eastern DRC, armed groups continue to be the main threat," the report said.

Eastern DRC, rich in mineral resources, has been plagued by violence since the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, when some 800,000, mainly Tutsis, were slain by Hutus. Afterward, many Hutus, estimated at a million, were believed to have fled into the DRC, destabilizing the region.

The conflict there has displaced more than 475,000 people and forced over 75,000 others to flee to neighboring Rwanda and Uganda.

The UN chief said he planned to appoint a special envoy for the Great Lakes region to help governments in the region "reach agreements and establish mechanisms to guarantee non-interference in the internal affairs of the neighboring states".

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