Scaling down the UN peacekeeping force in Congo could prolong the humanitarian crisis, Oxfam warns
The Democratic Republic of Congo faces disaster if United Nations peacekeepers are withdrawn too soon, international aid agency Oxfam warned today.
Oxfam, in a new report entitled “A Fragile Future,” says that without a strong UN presence the Congo could see a return to widespread fighting which would undo the gains made in the historic 2006 elections.
The UN started renewing the mandate of its peacekeeping force (known as MONUC) on 15 Feb and the agency is urging the UN Security Council to keep MONUC at its current strength.
“Without a substantial and effective MONUC presence, the security situation – which is currently fairly stable – could soon unravel,” said Juliette Prodhan, head of Oxfam GB in the DRC. “This would be a disaster for the DRC and the wider region. MONUC has brought stability and security to large parts of the country and played an instrumental role in helping the Congolese people with the 2006 elections.
“This is a period of unprecedented opportunity for the DRC – but only if the international community makes the right choices in the next few months. MONUC’s existing resources in DRC are already overstretched. Cutting the current troop strength or resources would spell disaster for communities currently benefiting from MONUC protection.
“MONUC should stay at its current strength – at this stage anything else would amount to abandoning civilians in the DRC to a very frightening and uncertain future.”
Instead of looking at reducing troop numbers, Oxfam says the UN Security Council should use the mandate renewal process to improve MONUC’s operational effectiveness.
Peacekeepers’ priority should be protecting civilians, for example by increasing the number of night patrols. They should also establish overall security and humanitarian access in areas where displaced populations are returning to their villages of origin.
Oxfam say MONUC’s long-term exit strategy should be linked to reform of the DRC’s army and police. The DRC’s security sector does not currently have the capacity to protect the civilian population from militia warlords, foreign rebels or local defence forces. Only when they are better able to protect civilians should the UN consider reducing the number of MONUC troops.