DR Congo

DRC: Boost MONUC's presence in Ituri, Security Council tells Annan

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NAIROBI, 21 March (IRIN) - The UN Security Council asked Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Thursday to increase the presence of the peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), known as MONUC, especially in the northeastern Ituri District of Orientale Province, where violence has escalated in the recent past.
In a statement issued from New York, the UN's highest decision-making body also asked Annan to increase the number of personnel in MONUC's human rights component "to enhance the capacity of the Congolese parties to investigate all the serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights perpetrated on the territory of the country since the beginning of the conflict in 1998".

The Council made the requests when it passed a new resolution, welcoming the 6 March agreement in the DRC on arrangements for a transitional government. The Council called for the establishment of such a government as soon as possible.

The facilitator of the inter-Congolese Dialogue, former Botswana President Ketumile Masire, announced on Wednesday that the final session of the talks would be held in Sun City, South Africa, on 1 and 2 April. The parties to the dialogue are expected to ratify several agreements during the session, in order to legalise all agreements and pave the way for a transitional government.

On Thursday, the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 1468 (2003), condemning the massacres and other human rights violations perpetrated in the DRC, "particularly sexual violence against women and girls as a tool of warfare, and atrocities perpetrated in the Ituri area".

It demanded that all the parties to the DRC conflict ensure the security of civilians and grant MONUC and humanitarian organisations "full and unimpeded" access to the populations in need.

On Tuesday, delegates of the Ugandan and DRC governments, different rebel groups, and ethnic militias operating in Ituri signed a ceasefire accord in Bunia, the district's principal city. Annan's special representative to the DRC, Amos Namanga Ngongi, presided over the ceremony, which was also attended by Presidents Joseph Kabila of the DRC, President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and diplomats accredited to the DRC.

The 15-member Security Council on Thursday requested Annan to increase MONUC's presence in Ituri, especially the number of observers and human rights personnel, "to monitor developments on the ground, including the use of airfields in the Ituri area".

MONUC should "provide further support and assistance to humanitarian efforts, as well as to facilitate the formation of the Ituri Pacification Commission [IPC] and assist the work of this commission as consistent with MONUC's current mandate, in consultation with all the Congolese parties to the conflict," the Council said.

As the Security Council met, a preparatory technical committee for the establishment of the IPC convened its first meeting in Bunia. The committee was set up following the agreement reached on Tuesday by six of seven rebel groups in Ituri area to cease hostilities.

The MONUC spokesman, Hamadoun Toure, said the technical committee comprised two representatives from MONUC, representatives of ethnic militias in Ituri, and officials of the governments of Angola, the DRC, and Uganda. "This committee will work to identify Ituri delegates for the pacification commission," he said.

During its Thursday meeting, the Security Council demanded that all governments in the Great Lakes region "immediately cease military and financial support to all the parties engaged in armed conflict in the Ituri region". All foreign troops must be withdrawn from Congolese territory, it said, adding that Uganda should complete the withdrawal of all its troops "without further delay".

The Uganda People's Defence Forces and allied Lendu and Ngiti militiamen on 6 March ousted the rebel Union des patriotes congolais (UPC) led by Thomas Lubanga, from Bunia. The UPC did not sign Tuesday's ceasefire agreement. Lubanga told IRIN on Wednesday that UPC was ready to sign an agreement with Uganda, but not with the other groups, "with which we are not an adversary".

The UN Security Council expressed its "deep concern" over the "rising tensions" between Rwanda and Uganda and their proxies in the DRC, stressing that the two countries "must take steps to build mutual confidence and settle their concerns through peaceful means".

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