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US Questions Expansion of UN DRC Peacekeeping Mission

The U.N. Security Council has delayed action on a request by Secretary-General Kofi Annan for more peacekeepers for the Democratic Republic of Congo. The United States has expressed reservations about expanding the $1 billion-a-year mission.

The Security Council Friday extended the mandate of the Congo peacekeeping mission, known as MONUC, for one month. The extension is an admission that Council members cannot agree on how to respond to Secretary-General Annan's request to send more blue-helmeted U.N. troops to the region ahead of next year's elections.

In a report to the Council, Mr. Annan recommended adding 2,500 troops to the 16,000 strong force. He pointed to the need for increased security for the elections, which are due by next June. The vote will be the first in the DRC since 1965, when the country was known as Zaire.

Council diplomats say the main objection to the plan comes from the United States, which pays 27 percent of the U.N. peacekeeping budget, or more than $600 million this year.

Expansion of the DRC mission would require Congress to appropriate tens of millions of additional dollars to pay for the U.S. share. The peacekeeping operation, the largest in the U.N. system, already costs more than $1 billion a year.

A spokesman for the U.S. mission to the U.N., who spoke on the condition he not be identified, questioned whether adding 2,000 troops would significantly improve security in a country almost as large as Europe.

U.S. diplomats are suggesting a possible alternative to enlarging the MONUC force. Washington favors borrowing troops from other U.N. peacekeeping missions in the region until the elections are over.

But the DRC ambassador to the United Nations, Atoki Ileka, said he believes it is in the long-term interest of the United States and other donor countries to pay for extra peacekeepers. "If we can realize peace in the DRC, it's to the advantage of everybody, so it's better to put money now, to put a human capacity now, and to have a stabilized region, because if things unravel, maybe the cost will be much more greater," he said.

In early September, the Council approved the addition of more than 800 police officers to the MONUC force. The officers will train local police, as well as provide election security.

Friday, the 15-member Council announced plans to travel to Africa's Great Lakes region in early November. In addition to the DRC the week-long trip will take the ambassadors to Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, and Tanzania.