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Ban calls for closer Congo-U.N. collaboration
Sat Feb 28, 2009 9:39am EST
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By Yves Boussen
KISANGANI, Congo (Reuters) - United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Saturday for increased collaboration between Congo and the U.N. peacekeeping mission there, which is under fire for failing to do its job.
The 17,000-strong mission, which is the U.N.'s largest and known as MONUC, helped usher Congo to landmark 2006 elections and has been credited with stabilizing much of the vast central African nation following a brutal 1998-2003 war.
But it has been largely sidelined in recent months as Congo's President Joseph Kabila has allowed Ugandan and Rwandan troops into his country to hunt rebels who continue to roam across swathes of Congo's mineral-rich north and east.
"I was pleased to have this valuable opportunity to discuss with President Kabila the need to have close cooperation between the government and the people of the DRC and the U.N.," Ban told journalists after meeting Congo's president on Saturday.
"Close collaboration between the government and MONUC is especially important to stabilize the east and protect the population," he said in the eastern town of Kisangani.
During the peace process, the U.N. was heavily involved in negotiations between factions and organizing elections while its peacekeepers often fought alongside Congo's fledgling army.
"The problem is MONUC has always been more successful politically than militarily. With its main role being protecting civilians, it's not performed that function very well," Jason Stearns, an independent Congo analyst, said.
The peacekeepers remain stretched across a nation the size of Western Europe and are struggling to find 3,000 reinforcements approved by the Security Council months ago.
Kabila also kept the mission in the dark over the joint operations, leaving them to contain the fallout, which aid workers say has seen over 1,000 civilians killed in reprisals.
Ban rejected recent criticism from rights groups and humanitarians, who accuse MONUC of not doing enough to fulfill its mandate to protect Congolese civilians.
"There are limits in capacity and resources, but MONUC makes efforts to support the (Congolese army) and protect civilians. We have saved tens of thousands of the civilian population during the fighting," he said.
Rwanda completed a pullout of thousands of its soldiers from the troubled border province of North Kivu on Thursday after more than a month of operations with Congo's army against the Hutu Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).
Uganda's army, which is hunting Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army rebels in the remote northeast, will miss a February 28 deadline to pull out.
The joint operations have been politically sensitive but all three Great Lakes neighbors, former enemies during the five-year conflict, have deemed the operations a success.
But the rapid withdrawal of foreign troops has raised fears that the rebels will retake positions and attack villagers despite the U.N. and government's efforts to maintain pressure by launching operations in new zones. Continued...
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