DR Congo

U.N. council seen backing special forces for Congo

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By Louis Charbonneau

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 24 (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council will likely authorize deployment of some special forces and new military hardware to help U.N. troops better protect civilians from increasing violence in Congo, diplomats said.

Earlier this month Alan Doss, head of the U.N. mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC), asked the Security Council for more troops, including forces with special skills and training, as well as drones and other military hardware that can improve MONUC's intelligence gathering capabilities.

Doss's request responded to heavy fighting between government forces and Tutsi rebels led by renegade General Laurent Nkunda in Congo's North Kivu province over the past two months, threatening an eight-month peace process.

Charles Vincent of the U.N. World Food Program's Geneva office said on Friday up to 200,000 people have fled the renewed fighting since August.

Several diplomats on the council said the 15-nation body was almost certain to approve Doss's request and possibly also temporarily lift the ceiling on the number of troops in MONUC, though some of the 15 member states might require persuasion.

With 17,000 troops and police, MONUC is the largest U.N. peacekeeping force in the world.

The council's willingness to consider Doss's request when U.N. peacekeeping resources are stretched thin shows how worrisome the situation in eastern Congo has become.

"For the moment we approved the restructuring within the current ceiling of troops," French Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert told reporters on Thursday.

"He wants some more intelligence (capabilities), he wants some special forces and he wants some more tactical support," he said. "We will consider that."

Ripert said the final decision on whether and how to strengthen and expand the mission will likely fall in two months, when the council plans to renew MONUC's mandate.

Congo has made clear it would like MONUC's capabilities strengthened as soon as possible to help deter what it sees as an increased threat from Nkunda and from neighboring Rwanda, which Kinshasa accused of making an incursion into Congolese territory earlier this month. Kigali denied the allegation.

In addition to hardware like unmanned drones, which can be used to track down militants across the vast expanse of eastern Congo, U.N. officials and council diplomats say it is important for MONUC to have highly trained soldiers who can be mobilized quickly and are not afraid of a firefight.

There have been reports of MONUC peacekeepers refusing to engage in combat in Congo, diplomats and U.N. officials say.

But U.N. peacekeeping spokesman Nick Birnback denied that MONUC was shirking its duty in the battlefield, which he said was "complicated, unclear and very, very dangerous."

(Editing by Alan Elsner)

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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