* UN Congo envoy: waiting for helicopters, reinforcements
* Doss says ability to protect civilians could be impaired
* Envoy sees prospect of eventual end to conflict (Adds further comments by Doss, council statement)
By Patrick Worsnip
UNITED NATIONS, April 9 (Reuters) - The top U.N. official in Congo complained to the Security Council on Thursday that a continued shortage of helicopters would hamper the ability of peacekeepers to protect civilians in the violence-torn nation.
Alan Doss, special U.N. envoy to the Democratic Republic of Congo, said continuing threats to civilians in the east of the country underlined the importance of a reinforcement to the peacekeeping mission agreed by the council last year.
In response to renewed fighting in the area, the council in November approved a temporary increase of 3,000 troops and police in the mission, known as MONUC, to 20,000. It is already the world’s largest U.N. force.
Doss told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday that none of the peacekeepers and military hardware he had requested had so far arrived. Bangladesh and Egypt have offered units.
Speaking to the council on Thursday, Doss welcomed the promised reinforcement, but added that "regrettably ... other critically important capacities are not yet in sight."
"Without the additional 18 helicopters required for rapid deployment and reaction, MONUC’s capacity to respond rapidly to emerging threats and to protect civilian populations will be curtailed," he added.
The force’s ability to support the Congolese national army, as required by its mandate, would also be "seriously constrained," Doss said.
In addition to regular troops, Doss has asked for special forces and intelligence specialists to help MONUC root out rebels across eastern Congo, an area the size of France.
A statement on Congo adopted by the Security Council after Doss’s report made no mention of the helicopter problem or the delay in getting troops to the region.
A lack of helicopters, and the specialists needed to operate them, has also hampered U.N. peacekeeping operations elsewhere, notably in the western Sudanese region of Darfur. Countries that have them often say they have none to spare.
Renewed violence by rebel groups erupted in eastern Congo last September. MONUC was criticized by aid and human rights groups for failing to protect civilians because, critics said, its forces were spread too thinly around Congo.
However, Doss said there had been a "sea change" in the region since a rapprochement between Congo and its eastern neighbor Rwanda, former enemies during a 1998-2003 war.
There was now "a real hope of being able finally to find a durable solution to the problems that have haunted this region of Congo for more than a decade," he said.
Congo allowed Rwandan soldiers into its North Kivu province in January to take on Rwandan Hutu rebels based there. Joint operations helped neutralize Congo’s own Tutsi rebels in the area and the United Nations has said the resulting improvement in security has allowed 300,000 internal refugees to return.
But FDLR fighters, some of whom orchestrated Rwanda’s 1994 genocide in which 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed, have returned to many former positions since Rwanda pulled out in February, provoking violence and displacement.
A Congolese-Ugandan-South Sudanese offensive against Ugandan Lords Resistance Army rebels based in Congo has also brought a backlash by fleeing fighters, who have killed some 1,000 civilians in recent months, according to rights groups. (Editing by )