Voicing concern about the reported eastward movement of armed groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Secretary-General Kofi Annan has stressed the importance of maintaining the United Nations peacekeeping force in the country and recommended an extension of its mandate for one more year.
In a just-issued report on the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC), the Secretary-General in which he says he shares the Council's "cautious optimism" about the immediate future of the Lusaka peace process, as well as its sense of foreboding with respect to Burundi - assessments made last month by the Security Council mission to the Great Lakes region of Africa.
Describing as "particularly disturbing" reports of the eastward movement of armed groups and their incursions into Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania, the Secretary-General noted that there is speculation that the armed elements "are moving out of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in order to evade participation in the disarmament […] programme, for which the parties and MONUC will now intensify their planning."
Mr. Annan adds his voice to that of the Council mission to the region in urging the leaders of the countries concerned "to continue jointly to seek ways to remove their differences and reinforce areas of cooperation."
Regarding the UN operation, he notes that the lack of detailed information concerning numbers, locations, assembly areas, withdrawal routes and timetables provided by the parties is preventing the UN from drawing up specific adjustments to the current mandate. Nevertheless, substantial progress made in the disengagement of forces demands follow-up, he says.
The report includes an updated concept of operations, described as a transition phase. It envisages an increase of up to 2,500 military personnel over the current strength of 3,000, but does not request an increase in the overall authorized strength of 5,537.
Concluding that the UN would be engaged in the DRC for some considerable time to come, Mr. Annan recommends the extension of the mission's mandate for 12 months, until 15 June 2002.
The Security Council is scheduled to take up the report in consultations on Tuesday.