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KINSHASA, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO -- The Democratic Republic of Congo faces disaster if United Nations peacekeepers are withdrawn too soon, international aid agency Oxfam warned today.
In a new report, “A Fragile Future,” Oxfam says that without a strong UN presence the Congo could see a return to widespread fighting which would undo the gains made in the historic 2006 elections.
The UN started renewing the mandate of its peacekeeping force (known as MONUC) on February 15 and the agency is urging the UN Security Council to keep MONUC at its current strength.
“Without a substantial and effective MONUC presence, the security situation – which is currently fairly stable – could soon unravel,” said Juliette Prodhan, head of Oxfam in the DRC. “This would be a disaster for the DRC and the wider region. MONUC has brought stability and security to large parts of the country and played an instrumental role in helping the Congolese people with the 2006 elections.
“This is a period of unprecedented opportunity for the DRC – but only if the international community makes the right choices in the next few months. MONUC’s existing resources in DRC are already overstretched. Cutting the current troop strength or resources would spell disaster for communities currently benefiting from MONUC protection,” said Prodhan.
“MONUC should stay at its current strength – at this stage anything else would amount to abandoning civilians in the DRC to a very frightening and uncertain future.”
Instead of looking at reducing troop numbers, Oxfam says the UN Security Council should use the mandate renewal process to improve MONUC’s operational effectiveness.
Peacekeepers’ priority should be protecting civilians, for example by increasing the number of night patrols. They should also establish overall security and humanitarian access in areas where displaced populations are returning to their villages of origin.
Oxfam says MONUC’s long-term exit strategy should be linked to reform of the DRC’s army and police. The DRC’s security sector does not currently have the capacity to protect the civilian population from militia warlords, foreign rebels or local defence forces; only when they are better able to protect civilians should the UN consider reducing the number of MONUC troops.
Notes for editors
- MONUC is the UN’s largest peacekeeping mission, with 17,000 troops.
- The DRC was at war from 1998 to 2003, with widespread insecurity continuing in the east of the country. An estimated four million civilians have died as a result of the fighting.
- The DRC held its first ever national elections in 2006.
- Oxfam has worked in the DRC since the 1960s. Oxfam affiliates work in eight provinces: Province Orientale (Ituri, Haut-Uélé); North Kivu; South Kivu; Maniema; Bas-Congo; Bandundu; Equateur; and Kinshasa. In eastern DRC, Oxfam International provides emergency assistance – including water, sanitation, and public health promotion – to over 300,000 displaced people. Countrywide Oxfam’s longer-term programmes include education, livelihoods, inter-community dialogue and reconciliation, social and political participation, refugee reintegration, and reinsertion of ex-combatants.