UNITED NATIONS Rwanda on Tuesday opposed the use of surveillance drones in eastern Congo as proposed by the United Nations until there is a full assessment of their use, saying it did not want Africa to become a laboratory for foreign intelligence devices.
Envoys said U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told the Security Council during a closed-door session that the U.N mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo plans to deploy three unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as drones, in the country's conflict-torn eastern provinces.
The United Nations has wanted surveillance drones for eastern Congo since 2008. Alan Doss, the former head of the U.N. peacekeeping force there at the time asked the Security Council for helicopters, drones and other items to improve real-time intelligence gathering.
The request was never met, but the idea generated new interest last year after M23 rebels began taking over large swathes of eastern Congo.
Rwanda, which has denied allegations by U.N. experts that it has been supporting M23, made clear it considered Ladsous' call for deploying drones premature.
"It is not wise to use a device on which we don't have enough information," Olivier Nduhungirehe, Rwanda's deputy U.N. ambassador, told Reuters. "Africa shall not become a laboratory for intelligence devices from overseas."
The spokesman for the French U.N. mission, Brieuc Pont, said in a statement on France's Twitter feed: "MONUSCO needs additional, modern assets, including drones, to be better informed and more reactive."
Council diplomats said the United States, Britain and other council members were also supportive of the idea of using drones in eastern Congo.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected to submit a report to the Security Council in the coming weeks recommending ways of improving the U.N. force in Congo, known as MONUSCO.
The U.N. force in Congo suffered a severe blow to its image in November after it failed to intervene when well-equipped M23 rebels seized control of the eastern Congolese city of Goma. The rebels withdrew after 11 days.
Congolese troops, aided by U.N. peacekeepers, have been battling M23 - who U.N. experts and Congolese officials say are backed by both Rwanda and Uganda - for nearly a year in the mineral-rich east of the country.
Diplomats said the Rwandan delegation informed the Security Council behind closed doors on Tuesday that MONUSCO would be a "belligerent" if it deployed drones in eastern Congo now.
Nduhungirehe explained this position, saying it was vital to know before deploying drones what the implications would be for individual countries' sovereignty. He said Rwanda had no problem with helicopters, night-vision equipment or other high-tech gadgetry for the U.N. peacekeeping force.
Other diplomats, including some from Europe, have also expressed reservations. They said there were unanswered questions about who would receive the information from the drones and how widely it would be disseminated. They expressed discomfort at the idea of the United Nations becoming an active gatherer of intelligence.
Russia and China are among the nations on the council that have concerns about the deployment of drones in eastern Congo, diplomats told Reuters.
Western diplomats from countries that support the deployment of drones say Rwanda's opposition is the first manifestation of the difficulties they expect to face over Congo while Rwanda is on the Security Council for the next two years.
(Editing by Christopher Wilson and Stacey Joyce)