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DR Congo: Ban urges calm in Kinshasa; peacekeeping chief backs gradual drawdown of UN mission

UN peacekeepers in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
MONUSCO/Myriam Asmani
UN peacekeepers in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

DR Congo: Ban urges calm in Kinshasa; peacekeeping chief backs gradual drawdown of UN mission

Amid the deteriorating situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where the capital, Kinshasa, is gripped by clashes between demonstrators and security forces, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon today urged maximum restraint on all sides, while the head of United Nations peacekeeping operations briefed the Security Council on broader efforts to help stabilize the vast country.

In a statement issued by his spokesperson, the Secretary-General expressed his concern about the unrest in Kinshasa and other cities following the adoption of a draft raft electoral law by the National Assembly, currently under further review in the Senate.

“He deplores the loss of lives and injuries caused so far and calls on the national security forces and demonstrators to refrain from further violence and exercise maximum restraint,” said the statement.

Media reports note that violent anti-Government protests in the capital are entering their third day, and dozens of people have been killed as police forces and demonstrators face off in the streets.

In his statement, Mr. Ban underscored the Government's responsibility to provide political space for the peaceful expression of opinions. “Demonstrations should be conducted in a peaceful manner. While violence is not acceptable, the response to violent protests must also be proportionate,” he said.

“The Secretary-General calls on all key stakeholders to resume political dialogue and ensure that elections-related matters are discussed in an inclusive and peaceful fashion in the appropriate fora,” the statement continued, emphasizing the readiness of his Special Representative in the DRC, Martin Kobler, to use his good offices to help narrow the gap between the main actors involved.

Mr. Ban also reiterated the need for a credible, peaceful, and timely electoral process, in accordance with the Constitution.

Earlier in the day, Hervé Ladsous, Under-Secretary-General for UN Peacekeeping Operations, also addressed the situation in Kinshasa, telling the Security Council that there had been recent days of ‘troubling incidents related to the electoral process.’ The Congolese people have the right to demonstrate peacefully, and ‘we urge the Government to ensure that any response to violent protests is proportionate, he added.

As for the main focus of his presentation to the Council, he said that while the DRC has come a long way, the mission to neutralize armed forces is not yet over, and neither the UN nor the Government can accomplish that alone.

Briefing the 15-member body on the Strategic Review of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO), Mr. Ladsous said a wide range of issues had been discussed, including the political situation, the upcoming elections and security challenges. There was agreement that much has been achieved over the past years: the withdrawal of foreign armed forces, the reunification of the country, the establishment of the Transitional Government and two national elections.

However, major challenges remain including the M23, Congolese and foreign armed groups, in particular the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), which continue to pose a threat to the civilian population and the overall stability and development of the eastern DRC and the Great Lakes Region.

It was agreed that MONUSCO continues to stabilize the situation in the DRC, while supporting the Government in neutralizing armed groups. But there was also criticism over how the Mission is implementing certain aspects of its mandate and the performance of some of its contingents.

“We have taken these concerns seriously and the report before you contains a number of recommendations for MONUSCO to become more effective in implementing its mandate and to achieve more tangible results. This includes a recommendation by the Secretary-General for MONUSCO to intensify dialogue with the Government on a number of key policy issues,” said Mr. Ladsous.

With regard to the military component, he said he had conveyed concerns to troop and police contributing countries during a meeting two days ago. The message was clear: transformation of the MONUSCO Force alone will not result in the changes necessary to more effectively implement the Mission’s mandate.

“It must involve a change in behaviour of troop-contributing countries. All contingents must be ready and willing to use armed force against those who pose a threat to the civilian population and to do so proactively. It is clear, at the same time, that the protection of civilians cannot be reduced to military action only,” the Under-Secretary-General said.

The Secretary-General has recommended a reduction of the MONUSCO military personnel by 2,000 troops –based on the relative improvement in the security situation in some parts of eastern DRC following the military defeat of the M23, some increase in the capacity of the FARDC (national forces) to address the threat posed by armed groups, and a number of concrete measures to make the Force more mobile and flexible.

Congolese President Joseph Kabila and his Government, however, had advocated for deeper cuts. “They expressed the view that maintaining the numbers we have proposed would send a negative signal…Considering the numerous political and security challenges that remain, any reduction beyond the recommended figure would have negative implications on the ability of the Force to implement its mandate,” Mr. Ladsous warned.

The protection of civilians remains MONUSCO’s core mandated task, expressing concern over recent violent protests and urged the Government to ensure that any response to violent protests is proportionate. Protecting civilians requires a strong military component, able to flexibly and effectively undertake the military aspects of a comprehensive protection of civilians strategy, until the Government forces have the capacity to take over tasks MONUSCO is currently performing.

MONUSCO also has the mandate to neutralize armed groups. ‘Adequate capacity’ and ‘specialized capabilities’ are essential to implement this unique mandate in particular in view of operations against the FDLR and ADF.

He said that achieving tangible results will require resources and time, considering the dispersed nature of the armed group and its immersion within the local population, while avoiding the repetition of devastating humanitarian consequences that followed FARDC military operations against the FDLR in 2009.

This, however, does not mean that MONUSCO should stay in the DRC forever, Mr. Ladsous said, adding that MONUSCO’s exit will essentially depend on the Government’s commitment and ability to make progress on neutralizing armed groups; building the capacity of the army and the police in a sustainable manner and holding credible elections.

“We all have made considerable investments in the DRC over the past 15 years and it is in our collective interest to ensure a gradual withdrawal without reversing the hard-won gains achieved thus far. Neither the United Nations nor the Government can do this in isolation,” he said.

Speaking to reporters after closed door consultations with Council members, Mr. Kobler, who also heads up MONUSCO, said he held a weekend meeting with President Kabila and the two had discussed joint Government-UN operations against armed groups, in line with the calls made last week by the Security Council and the Secretary-General for the Government to approve such actions.

As for MONUSCO’s preparations for such operations against armed groups, including the FDLR, Mr. Kobler said: “We are done. We are ready to go. Our troops are pre-deployed and this is the case with the FARDC. We want to act jointly, because we cannot hold the areas we need to hold [on our own].”

He said President Kabila assured him that joint operations would start ‘very soon,’ said Mr. Kobler, but he added that the UN has set up 18 temporary assembly areas for those armed combatants that want to pursue the UN-backed disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process and repatriate to Rwanda.

“Surrender. Disarm voluntarily, any day, any time, and we are ready to accept them and Rwanda is ready to receive them.”