UNITED NATIONS, Nov 17 (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council hopes to vote this week on a French-drafted resolution that would boost the number of U.N. peacekeepers in the Congo to help avert a new war, council diplomats said on Monday.
The resolution was drafted by the French delegation in response to U.N. warnings that recent fighting in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo had forced a quarter of a million people to flee for their lives, sparking a new humanitarian catastrophe in the already war-ravaged region.
The requested increase in the size of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in the Congo, known by its French acronym MONUC, was based on a recommendation for a troop "surge" from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last month.
The draft resolution, obtained in full by Reuters, has the council approving "a temporary increase of MONUC's authorized military strength by up to 2,785 military personnel, and the strength of its formed police unit by up to 300 personnel."
The increase would bring the maximum permitted number of troops and police deployed under MONUC, already the biggest U.N. peacekeeping force in the world, to just over 20,000 to cover a country roughly the size of western Europe.
The resolution called on MONUC to use the extra troops to protect civilians and urged it to follow "robust rules of engagement" in the field.
Diplomats said they wanted the council to vote on the resolution as soon as possible and described the situation in Congo as urgent. "We hope the Security Council will be able to vote on the draft in the next few days," one council diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
The French text, which Britain, the United States and Belgium helped prepare, may undergo revisions before it is put to a vote in the 15-nation council, diplomats said. South Africa has voiced concerns about plans to increase the number of peacekeepers in Congo without adjusting MONUC's mandate.
The draft resolution was circulated to the Security Council as Congolese Tutsi rebels loyal to rebel General Laurent Nkunda continued to push north and extend the territory under their control, despite the commitment to a ceasefire and peace talks made by Nkunda on Sunday to a new U.N. envoy.
The peace initiative by former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, named special envoy by Secretary-General Ban, is aimed at ending weeks of renewed fighting that has displaced 250,000 people.
Obasanjo also met Congolese President Joseph Kabila and Rwandan President Paul Kagame over the weekend in an effort to stop the east Congo conflict from escalating into a repeat of a 1998-2003 Congo war, in which several million people died.
U.N. peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy has said it would take around two months to get the new personnel on the ground if the council approves the request for additional peacekeepers.
(Editing by Todd Eastham)
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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