U.N. chief calls for special force to combat Congo rebels
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon will urge the Security Council to approve a force to fight rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to a draft report seen on Monday, which also applauded suspension of aid to Rwanda over claims it backs the insurgents.
In the draft of a special report to the 15-member council, Ban said a brigade of several thousand soldiers should be created within the existing U.N. peacekeeping force in Congo, known as MONUSCO, and be deployed initially for one year.
"The intervention brigade would carry out targeted offensive operations, either on its own or jointly with the FARDC (Congolese army), in a robust, highly mobile and versatile manner," Ban said in a copy of the draft obtained by Reuters.
He added that the intervention brigade would focus on preventing the expansion of armed groups, "neutralizing" and disarming them. Such peace enforcement missions allow the use of lethal force in serious combat situations.
In practical terms, U.N. diplomats say, troops in the brigade will have more freedom to open fire without having to wait until they are attacked first, a limitation that is standard for U.N. peacekeepers deployed around the world.
Ban warned that ongoing support to armed groups in Congo by "neighboring countries continued to be a source of serious instability, and should have tangible consequences for perpetrators." He did not name any countries in the draft.
Some sections of the draft report could be changed before it is approved by Ban's office and given to the Security Council. He is due to brief the council on his proposals next week.
African leaders signed a U.N.-mediated deal on Sunday aimed at ending two decades of conflict in Congo's east and paving the way for the intervention brigade. The 15-member U.N. Security Council will now need to pass a new resolution authorizing the force and diplomats have said it will likely be supported.
The U.N. Security Council's Group of Experts, which monitors compliance with sanctions and an arms embargo on Congo, said in a report last year that Rwanda's defense minister was commanding the M23 revolt in Congo and that Rwanda was arming the rebels and supporting them with troops.
Rwanda - now a member of the Security Council - has strongly denied involvement.
The United States, Sweden, the Netherlands, Britain and the European Union reacted to the experts' accusations by suspending some aid to Rwanda, which relies on donors for about 40 percent of its budget.
"Actions taken by some bilateral donors to suspend aid and funds to those countries reportedly supporting in particular the M23 send a strong message that such practices must cease immediately," Ban said.
M23 began taking parts of eastern Congo early last year, accusing the government of failing to honor a 2009 peace deal. That deal ended a previous rebellion and led to the rebels' integration into the army. They have since deserted the army.
Ban said that attempts to integrate rebels too quickly into the army as part of peace settlements had destabilized its command and control structures.
He said reform of the Congolese army was critical to building a professional force and that Congolese President Joseph Kabila had committed to make this a priority in 2013. Ban encouraged Kinshasa to focus first on creating a rapid reaction force of about five brigades to take on emerging threats.
He said the key priority for U.N. peacekeepers would be to reduce the threat of armed groups to a level that can be managed by Congolese security forces.
Ban said that the regional deal signed on Sunday included a commitment by the countries "not to interfere in the internal affairs of neighboring countries; to neither tolerate nor provide assistance or support of any kind to armed groups."
He said the intervention brigade would be made up of three battalions - two new battalions and one taken from the existing peacekeeping force - along with an artillery battery, a special forces company, a signals unit and support components.
The additional troops would not increase the total MONUSCO force beyond its authorized mandate of about 22,000. Diplomats say South Africa, Tanzania and Mozambique are the most likely candidates to supply the troops for the intervention unit.
Ban said the intervention would be under the direct operational command of the MONUSCO force commander. The force will be aided by three surveillance drones, which U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous has said he hopes will be deployed by the summer.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by David Brunnstrom)
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