DR Congo

UN's Ban calls for troop "surge" in unstable Congo

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By Louis Charbonneau

UNITED NATIONS, Nov 4 (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has asked the Security Council to approve a "surge" of more than 3,000 troops and police to help prevent a full-scale war from erupting in eastern Congo.

Ban urged the 15-nation council to consider the request "expeditiously" given the possibility of an escalation of fighting in Congo. But there was no sign that the divided Security Council would discuss Ban's request any time soon.

The U.N. mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, known by its French acronym MONUC, is the largest U.N. peacekeeping force in the world, with 17,000 troops and police across a country the size of western Europe. But Ban's letter, obtained on Tuesday by Reuters, said it was no longer enough.

"The current crisis emanating from CDNP's (rebels') recent offensive clearly underscored that the resources available to (MONUC) are not commensurate to the security challenges on the ground," the letter said.

Aid agencies say tens of thousands of civilians are roaming the countryside in eastern Congo unprotected, in need of shelter, food, water and medical care.

Some of the displaced have accused MONUC of failing to protect them from violence and looting, not just by armed rebel groups like renegade Congolese Tutsi Gen. Laurent Nkunda's CDNP, but also by Congolese government forces.

Top U.N. officials on Monday rejected suggestions that MONUC has failed in its duty to protect Congolese civilians.

The CNDP has been poised to seize the capital of North Kivu province, Goma, since last week. Nkunda threatened on Tuesday to take Goma and press on towards the capital Kinshasa unless the government agrees to talks on the country's future.

Ban warned the council in his letter that the need to send peacekeepers to help protect Goma from the CNDP meant that the U.N. presence across eastern Congo has become uneven.

"The priority to protect Goma through a series of reinforcements has significantly reduced MONUC's presence in other critical areas of the country," the letter said.

REBEL ADVANCE

A January peace deal collapsed in August in Congo, where a 1998-2003 war and resulting humanitarian disaster have killed some 5.4 million people, mostly through hunger and disease.

As the crisis deepened, the head of MONUC, Alan Doss, asked the U.N. Security Council on Oct. 3 for additional troops and military hardware to help him deal with Nkunda's advance.

Ban's letter spells out what additional forces the U.N. peacekeeping department wants -- two infantry battalions, two companies of special forces, 18 utility helicopters with 260 personnel and two C-130 Hercules aircraft with 50 staff.

MONUC would also like a company of engineers, intelligence experts, military trainers and two police units. Ban said this "surge capacity" would be needed for around nine months and would add 3,085 police and military personnel to MONUC.

The Security Council is not scheduled to discuss MONUC until Nov. 26, though Costa Rican Ambassador Jorge Urbina, the current council president, said it would probably hold an emergency council session on the Congo crisis before that.

However, he said "there is no consensus" on the issue of the U.N. secretariat's request for more troops.

(Editing by Vicki Allen)

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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