* Congo wants U.N. mission to plan drawing down
* Security efforts need more money, coordination
By Thomas Hubert
KINSHASA, Dec 23 (Reuters) - Foreign donors must invest hundreds of millions of dollars and better coordinate an array of Congolese military reform plans before the United Nations can start cutting back on its vast but troubled peacekeeping force.
Congo's President Joseph Kabila, who is likely to stand for re-election in 2011, wants the world body's largest peacekeeping force to have an exit strategy by mid-2010, the mineral-rich giant's 50th anniversary since independence from Belgian.
But Congo's continued reliance on U.N. troops to help tackle violence, whether a new rebellion in the west or years of sustained fighting in the east, underscores the failings of piecemeal efforts to turn rebel and pro-government armed groups into a cohesive national army.
"The lack of strong, disciplined security services is at the core of the conflict in the Congo," said Congo analyst Jason Stearns, who is writing a book on Congo's last two wars.
Despite deals to end the 1998-2003 war and a mostly peaceful election in 2006, which Kabila won with vows to consolidate peace, various rebellions simmer across Congo's east, where hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced by fighting and reports of widespread abuses by government troops.
Kinshasa's army of an estimated 150,000 soldiers regularly calls on the U.N.'s nearly 20,000-strong force for everything from training and food to fire support from helicopter gunships and help moving soldiers and ammunition during battles.
But Stearns said many in government have vested interests in keeping the army weak as it allows them to use units to protect mines and smuggling networks they run in the east.
"Any attempts at security sector reform must tackle this core problem - there is no sense in reforming isolated brigades and then inserting them into the same, corrupt system."
DESTINY IN CONGO'S HANDS
Soon after the official end to Congo's last war in 2003, Belgium took the lead by training the country's first integrated brigade. Others, including South Africa, Angola, the U.S. and China, have also trained units for the army.
The result, however, is confusion in the ranks.
"Those battalions are not the same size, they do not have the same values nor the same training language," said Jean-Paul Michel, the general heading up the EUSEC European security assistance and advisory mission in Congo.
Another challenge facing the reforms has been continued fighting since the official end to the war, meaning training is either rushed through or often on the job, run by the U.N. peacekeepers they are meant to be carrying out operations with.
The end of a rebellion led by a dissident Tutsi general earlier this year allowed Kinshasa to turn its guns on Rwandan Hutu rebels who are based in the east and have been at the heart of the region's violence since the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
With these operations now set to end later this month, according to the U.N., talk is turning to the future.
"We wish that the Congolese people is informed by June 30 of how it will retake its destiny in its own hands," said Congolese information minister Lambert Mende.
"Symbolically, this is very important for us."
Congo wants the U.N. force to focus on the east but, just weeks ago, it sent hundreds of peacekeepers to a remote western region to back government forces in putting down a new rebellion far from the traditionally volatile Kivu provinces.
"People talking about a drawdown is perfectly normal at this stage," said Kevin Kennedy, a spokesman for the U.N. mission.
"But there is a range of things we expect the Security Council will be asking about - benchmarks on how far the (army) and the government have progressed," he added, referring to Congo's basic capacity to fight rebels and provide security.
HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS
While the U.N. force has been criticised for supporting the Congolese army on operations that have killed hundreds and displaced thousands, it is still deemed necessary.
"The situation on the ground makes us believe that a reduction or withdrawal would be a disaster for the civilian population," said Marcel Stoessel, Oxfam's director in Congo.
The U.N. plans to focus on training and security reform in 2010 and, recognising how "all donors have their own security interests", has offered to coordinate.
Stearns warned that this would have to be far-reaching, to include parliamentary oversight, making sure soldiers are paid, audits take place and military justice is improved.
"In order for this to happen, donors will probably have to invest hundreds of millions of dollars, not the paltry amounts that are currently designated for this purpose," he said.
And the EU's Michel stressed the need for foreigners to ensure that the something as sensitive as overhauling the military is led by the Congolese if it is to be accepted.
"It is possible to try and harmonise all donors' positions ... But anything to do with steering and implementation should be done by the Congolese," he said.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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