UN approves Congo ‘intervention brigade’

The UN Security Council on March 28 unanimously approved the first-ever “offensive” UN peacekeeping brigade, to fight rebel groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The force of more than 2,500 troops will operate under orders to “neutralize” and “disarm” rebel forces in the resource-rich east of the country. The intervention brigade is unprecedented in UN peacekeeping because of its offensive mandate. The resolution states that it will be established for one year “on an exceptional basis and without creating a precedent” to the principles of UN peacekeeping. The force, to be deployed in July, will include troops from South Africa, Tanzania and Malawi. The UN currently has some 18,000 troops in the DRC, and has been widely accused of doing little to stop the violence in the eastern region. The latest rebellion flared a year ago, and has forced some 800,000 from their homes.

The resolution, sponsored by France, the US and Togo, gives the brigade a mandate to operate “in a robust, highly mobile and versatile manner” to ensure that armed groups do not threaten government authority or the security of civilians. Surveillance drones will be also used to monitor the DRC’s borders with neighboring states accused of backing the rebels (a clear reference to Rwanda). The resolution strongly condemns the continued presence of the M23 rebel group in the immediate vicinity of the eastern city of Goma, capital of North Kivu province, accusing it of attempting to establish “an illegitimate parallel administration in North Kivu.” It demands that the (Rwanda-backed) M23 and other armed groups, including those seeking the “liberation” of Rwanda and Uganda (that is, opposed to those governments), immediately halt all violence and “permanently disband and lay down their arms.” It also strongly condemns rebels’ continuing human rights abuses, including summary executions, sexual and gender-based violence, and large-scale recruitment and use of children.

The Goma-based brigade will be part of the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo, known as MONUSCO, and within its troop ceiling of 19,815. The resolution extends MONUSCO’s mandate until March 31, 2014. Rwanda, a temporary member of the Security Council, joined the other 14 members in voting for the resolution. Under a UN-brokered accord last month, 11 African nations pledged not to interfere in the affairs of their neighbors. (Al Jazeera, BBC News, March 29)