UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - After weeks of discussion on the many-sided war in the Congo, the United States introduced a six-page Security Council resolution to create a U.N. observer force of 5,537 to help implement peace accords.
But the text, in line with proposals from U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, says the peacekeepers should not be deployed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo until warring parties give ''firm and credible assurances'' to ensure their safety.
U.S. envoy Nancy Soderberg, who put forward the draft text, told diplomats late on Tuesday a vote would have to wait until Feb. 22, during which time the document may be revised.
The Clinton administration agreed several years ago to congressional demands for 15 days notice before approving a U.N. peacekeeping operation, of which it has to pay a third. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee she expected Washington to pay about $42 million but no American troops would be involved in what she has termed ''Africa's first world war.''
After extraordinary meetings of seven African presidents in New York last month, arranged by U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the United States would have been hard-pressed to turn down an initial U.N. monitoring operation.
The mission, however, falls far short of a regular peacekeeping venture and would not use force to impose a cease-fire or to disarm any of the parties.
African leaders on all sides of the conflict, which involves military intervention from five nations, have said that such a small force could do practically nothing in a country of nearly a million square miles, about the size of Western Europe. France has agreed with them, although it is not sending any troops either.
French Ambassador Alain Dejammet told reporters he preferred U.N. troops in a border zone between Rwanda and the Congo to prevent Rwanda Hutu rebels based in the Congo from invading their homeland.
The war has drawn troops from Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia in support of the government of President Laurent Kabila against rebels backed by Uganda and Rwanda.
The governments signed an accord in Lusaka, Zambia, in July 1999 and rebel leaders joined the agreement in August. But fighting has continued in the war, which has cost thousands of lives and uprooted about one million people.
The new U.N. operation would include 500 military observers protected by some 5,000 troops, divided into infantry battalions, two marine companies, each with four boats, to make use of the country's extensive river system; plus medical, communications and aviation units.
As well as maintaining contact with all the belligerents' military forces, the U.N. troops would monitor the cease-fire, investigate violations, verify the disengagement of forces, facilitate the release of prisoners, supervise the redeployment of forces and help with humanitarian operations.
The U.N. Mission in the Congo now has only 79 military liaison officers stationed in eight locations in the country and in the capitals of the states involved.
France has also insisted on a provision, in the preamble of the draft resolution, noting the stealing of Congo's diamonds and other resources. Accusations of exploitation have been leveled at foreign armies in the conflict, reminiscent of colonial times when Belgium plundered the country but left its people impoverished.
Shortly after the Congo became independent from Belgium in 1960, the country was the scene of one of the biggest and most disastrous U.N. operations. It involved at its height nearly 20,000 U.N. troops and suffered some 250 fatalities before ending in 1964.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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