The future of the world’s biggest UN peacekeeping force in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo is under the spotlight. Amid pressure from the DRC government for a UN exit strategy after a presence of 10 years, the Security Council is meeting to debate whether its mandate should be extended. A new mission of at least five months is due to be agreed, but the UN is expected to modify its operations.
The international force of some 16,500 soldiers has been helping government troops fight rebels on several fronts, including militants from Rwanda and Uganda. The UN also recently beefed up its presence against an insurgency in the western region of Dongo.
As tens of thousands of refugees flee the fighting, human rights groups question the UN support for government military operations in light of heavy civilian casualties. There are also claims of rights abuses by government troops, while refugees risk their lives with dangerous escape routes.
One woman described on euronews how many people have drowned trying to cross this river, in small canoes, holding on to drums or pieces of drift wood, many desperately trying to grab hold of passing canoes.
Western countries have been stepping up their calls for greater protection of civilians caught up in fighting. But getting help to these refugees, over long distances and difficult terrain, has become a nightmare for aid organisations.
More than a million Congolese have been displaced over the past three years, and since 1998 wars have killed more than five million. The DRC President Joseph Kabila is understood to have called for a UN exit strategy before June next year, his country’s 50th anniversary of independence from Belgium.