As the United Nations prepares for next month’s elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the largest and most challenging it has ever helped organize, the UN mission there is training thousands of police to provide security for a vote that is meant to cement the vast country’s transition from a disastrous civil war.
Just this week two companies of the National Congolese Police (PNC) completed their training under the auspices of the UN mission in the DRC (MONUC) in collaboration with the Japanese Cooperation Agency (JCA).
“These results did not come about by accident. They are the fruit of a number of factors - the willingness to cooperate and the partnership that has been strengthened over the previous months,” Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Special Representative William Swing told the graduation ceremony in Kinshasa, the capital.
With the help of the international community, a total of over 46,000 police officers have been trained so far, 14,000 of them by MONUC. The majority has been trained by partners such as South Africa, Angola, France, the European Union and Japan.
According to Mr. Swing, the objective is to train a total of 50,000 officers before July 30, the start date of the elections.
This contributes little by little to changing the image of the police, which in the past has been “one of a collection of disparate elements from diverse backgrounds, sometimes without any understanding of security, or without any professional qualifications, and this diminished the ability of the force to operate at even the most basic levels of effectiveness,” he said.
The six-year civil war cost 4 million lives through fighting and attendant hunger and disease, widely considered the most lethal conflict in the world since World War II. In his most recent report on the DRC last week, Mr. Annan said security still remains tenuous in several parts of the country, notably in the east.
The Congolese electorate of 25.5 million voters will be called upon, for the first time in 45 years, to cast their vote in some 50,000 polling stations for some 33 presidential, over 9,000 national legislative and over 10,000 provincial assembly candidates, in polls that will cost hundreds of million dollars.
In a related development, the UN refugee agency reported that the reintegration of thousands of refugees in DRC’s Equateur province is surpassing expectations and could encourage others to return from the neighbouring Republic of Congo.
But the lack of funding for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) voluntary repatriation programme remains a significant problem that could ultimately affect returns planned for the second half of this year.
UNHCR is seeking $75 million this year, but by June it had received only $14.4 million. “When we look at available resources, we take pride in what we have been able to achieve with very little,” the head of the UNHCR office in Dongo, Wquateur province, Vito Trani, said.
Dongo is located on the east bank of the Oubangi River, facing the Republic of Congo. Some 60,000 Congolese crossed the Oubangi and Congo rivers and sought sanctuary in riverside villages in the Republic of the Congo and Central African Republic (CAR) when the civil war flared in 1998.