* First ever use of drones by a U.N. peacekeeping force
* Drones to monitor porous border with Rwanda, Uganda
* Cross-border support has fuelled various Congo rebellions
By Kenny Katombe
GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo, Dec 3 United
Nations forces in Democratic Republic of Congo launched unmanned
aircraft on Tuesday to monitor the volatile border with Rwanda
and Uganda, the first time U.N. peacekeepers have deployed
The aircraft will be used to look out for threats from a
host of local and foreign armed groups in the mineral rich east
where Congo and U.N. experts have accused Rwanda and Uganda of
sending arms and troops to back the recently-defeated M23
rebels, something both countries deny.
"The drones ... will allow us to have reliable information
about the movement of populations in the areas where there are
armed groups," U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping
Operations Herve Ladsous said at the launch of the drones in
Goma, the largest city in eastern Congo.
"We will survey the areas where there are armed groups, and
we can control the frontier," he added.
The U.N. mission has deployed two Falco drones manufactured
by Selex ES, a unit of Italian defence group Finmeccanica
One of the 5-metre (16-ft) long aircraft - painted white
with the letters UN in black on its wings and tail - performed a
demonstration flight for the crowd at the launch.
The drones will be flown out of Goma by Selex staff. They
can fly for between eight and 14 hours and as far as 200 km (125
miles) from their base, according to the company.
U.N. peacekeepers have received widespread criticism for
doing too little to end fighting in eastern Congo, a hilly and
thickly forested region that Kinshasa has struggled to control
during two decades of virtually constant conflict.
But the drone deployment comes after the peacekeepers helped
defeat M23, the most serious rebellion of President Joseph
Kabila's 12-year rule.
General Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz, commander of the
U.N. force in Congo, said the drones would only fly over
Congolese territory, as U.N. peacekeepers have no mandate to
operate in neighbouring countries.
Victory over M23 was the first time Kinshasa had militarily
defeated a major uprising in the east. It was helped by strong
U.N. support, major reforms in Congo's army and intense
diplomatic pressure on Congo's neighbours to halt rebel support.
Congo and U.N. experts say foreign backing for M23 was
significant. Following the defeat, experts are examining the
origin of a significant stash of weaponry and trucks found at
M23's bases in hills along the Rwandan border.
The drones were due to be launched as early as September, in
the hope of monitoring the conflict taking place on the border.
However delays meant they arrived only after M23 was defeated.
While a final political deal with M23 is still being ironed
out, Congolese and U.N. forces are now expected to turn their
attention to the Rwandan Hutu FDLR rebel group and Ugandan
ADF-NALU rebels, both of which are based in Congo's east.
(Additional reporting by Pete Jones; Writing by David Lewis and
Bate Felix; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)