As the United Nations helps the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to hold national elections in June as part of a peace plan after the most lethal fighting in the world since World War II, the world body’s top peacekeeping official is calling on the European Union (EU) to reinforce UN forces in providing security.
“We would like to see the EU taking a decision to have some kind of reserve to back up our forces with advanced elements in the DRC,” Under-Secretary-General Jean-Marie Guéhenno said. The elections are billed as the largest and most expensive the UN has ever helped to organize.
“We will certainly do our best efforts to have forces as mobile and proactive as possible, but we are also making major efforts to train more Congolese police,” he added, calling on the international community to speed up training a more professional Congolese army.
“At the end of the day, for such a huge effort as organizing elections in a country as vast as the Congo, security is the key element that has to be provided by the Congolese. Our forces will certainly be mobilized to help and contribute to that general effort,” Mr. Guéhenno, currently on a 10-day working visit to DRC, said.
He noted that the peace process would go through a critical period. “Elections are times where there are winners and losers. And so it is going to be a wonderful moment for Congo in the sense that for the first time in 45 years the Congolese will have the opportunity to really express their collective will,” he said.
“It is also going to be a very dangerous time because of the divisions that any election creates. And the reason why I am coming to Congo is really to see how this political process can be managed in the best possible way, how the international community can support it, so that everything that has been achieved so far will be further strengthened.”
He stressed that the DRC today is a very different place from only a few years ago, when fighting in the vast country, now mainly confined to the eastern regions, was widespread. “As unsatisfactory as the situation still is, it is certainly much, much better than it was three years ago,” he said.
The elections are seen as cementing the DRC’s transition from a six-year civil war that cost 4 million lives through fighting and the attendant humanitarian catastrophe.
Since 1999 the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC), with nearly 17,000 military personnel, has been helping to bring peace and stability to a country riven not only by its internal factions but also by those of its neighbours.
Most recently UN peacekeepers, backed by armoured vehicles and helicopters, supported DRC army troops in dislodging rebels from neighbouring Rwanda occupying parts of South Kivu in the country’s eastern region. MONUC troops were also helping army operations against rebel militias further north in the Ituri district.