Viet Nam News
UNITED NATIONS — France warned on Tuesday that drastic cuts to the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo would be tantamount to "playing with fire" as the country faces election turmoil.
"The DRC is at a crossroads," said France’s ambassador to the UN, Francois Delattre, ahead of a Security Council meeting on the situation in the vast, resource-rich African country.
France has circulated a draft resolution to renew the mandate of the peacekeeping mission, but is facing scrutiny from the United States which is seeking cuts to UN peace operations.
The DR Congo’s first political transition through elections is scheduled to take place before the end of the year but there are fears of widespread violence.
"We should not be playing with fire when it comes to such high stakes," said Delattre.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has asked the council to boost the UN mission, known by its acronym MONUSCO, by up to 320 UN police and to maintain the current number of military troops.
The United Nations has 19,000 soldiers, police and military observers deployed in the DR Congo, its biggest and costliest peacekeeping mission, with an annual budget of US$1.2 billion.
Delattre said negotiations were under way on MONUSCO’s future mandate and its troop levels.
"Reform to make it more efficient, yes. Reform to break it down, certainly not," he said.
The council is scheduled to vote on renewing MONUSCO’s mandate during a meeting on March 29.
The United States, by far the biggest financial contributor to UN peacekeeping, is seeking cuts to reduce its share of support for the missions.
This year, the United States will be providing nearly 29 per cent of the US$7.9 billion budget for UN peacekeeping.
Following the meeting, British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft, who holds the council presidency this month, said there were divergent views on the whether to trim down the mission.
"There was some support for a reduction in numbers, but also some concern that this year, in particular with elections coming up by the end of the year, is not the moment to reduce in any way the ability of MONUSCO to provide protection of civilians," he said.
Russian charge d’affaires Petr Iliichev agreed there should be fewer UN peacekeepers in the DR Congo but that those who are deployed should be "more agile, more flexible, more mobile" and that the police contingent should be boosted.
Negotiations were expected to continue until the vote next week.
In his report to the council, Guterres said 2017 will be a "crucial year" for the DR Congo as it heads toward elections.
After months of violence, the influential Catholic Church brokered a deal in late December to pave the way for elections, but the agreement has been bogged down in disputes over the appointment of a new prime minister.
Elections would bring an end to the rule of President Joseph Kabila, in power since 2001. — AFP