BUKAVU, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) - A hasty withdrawal of U.N. peacekeepers from Democratic Republic of Congo will undermine humanitarian work in the restive central African state, the top U.N. aid official said.
Rebel insurgencies continue in the former Belgian colony despite years of U.N.-backed operations in a country trying to draw investment to its oil and minerals reserves.
Aid groups say Congo’s national army is responsible for atrocities against the civilians they are charged to protect.
The U.N. is resisting pressure from Congolese President Joseph Kabila to start pulling out its force, known as MONUC, by the 50th anniversary of Congo’s independence on June 30.
“Our preference is for MONUC to stay and for any discussions of withdrawal to be based on not an arbitrary timetable, but on the accomplishment of what MONUC is there to do,” U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes told reporters late Friday.
“We are worried by the prospect of a rapid or premature withdrawal of MONUC because MONUC is very important for our activities in the sense of providing stability, providing security for humanitarians.”
U.N. peacekeepers have been in the central African nation since a 1998-2003 war that killed millions. The force has since grown in the world’s largest global peacekeeping mission.
Congo’s government says however that it is time for U.N. forces to pull out because of increasing evidence that its forces are prepared to fill the gap left by MONUC’s departure.
During Holmes’ visit to south Kivu, a region in Congo’s east where Rwandan Hutu FDLR rebels are active, a villager told him she was afraid of government forces in the next town.
“The 14th brigade, which is based in Kitutu and has a bad reputation, must be taken out for our protection,” she told him.
Belgium’s ambassador to Kinshasa, Dominique Struye de Swielande, said this month he was concerned about a hasty withdrawal of MONUC forces.
Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Maria Golovnina