New peacekeeping strategy for Congo unveiled

17:58, Jan 25 2010

Democratic Republic of Congo and UN peacekeepers are redeploying soldiers under a new strategy to pacify the country's volatile east, but analysts say the move is unlikely to end widespread abuses there.

The changes are part of the United Nation's efforts to overhaul its strategy and role in Congo, where the world body has its largest force, but has been heavily criticised for backing abusive government troops.

Presidential elections, due in under two years, are escalating pressure on the UN to firm-up exit plans.

Rather than continue to provide blanket support for Congolese soldiers, the UN said it will now only help the army with transport, food and firepower on operations it helps plan.

"Army and (UN) forces are in the process of redeploying and pre-positioning themselves for operation Amani Leo," UN military spokesman Lt Col Jean-Paul Dietrich said, referring to the new strategy, which means Peace Today in Swahili.

Last year the UN Security Council called on peacekeepers to back Congo's army in operations against Rwandan Hutu rebels in eastern Congo.

Although they were declared a success by the government, the operations killed hundreds of civilians, led to thousands of women being raped and forced 900,000 people from their homes.

The UN said the new strategy will involve better joint planning and aim to hold and restore government control to areas captured from rebels. Both sides had agreed to improve discipline within the ranks of the army, the UN said.

However analysts say more time and hundreds of millions of dollars are needed to carry out the scale of army reform needed to improve Kinshasa's ability to tackle rebel groups and lessen the government's reliance on UN assistance.

Guillaume Lacaille, Central Africa analyst for the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, warned that at least a year of training was needed to train just eight Congolese battalions and "2010 risks looking much like 2009".

"As long as that army is not professionalised, launching offensive operations will lead to the same problems," he said.

Congo has endured a near-constant state of war and chaos over the last 15 years but the UN helped usher the mineral-rich giant to a 2006 election won by President Joseph Kabila.

The successful polls encouraged investors to flock into the nation's vast copper and cobalt mines but insecurity is rife in the east, where local and foreign rebels roam and government forces are often accused of raping, looting and killing the people they are tasked with protecting.

Elections are due again in 2011 and diplomats say Kabila, who campaigned on a pledge to pacify the east, wants the UN to develop an exit strategy this year.

The political dimension to security sector reform has complicated efforts by the international community, led by the UN, to hold the military accountable for abuses.

"The donors seem consistently incapable to find any leverage to use on the Congolese government," independent Congo analyst Jason Stearns said on his blog congosiasiasa.blogspot.com last week.

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Reuters