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UN to Strengthen Congo Peacekeeping Force - 2003-07-28

The United Nations Security Council has adopted a resolution to strengthen a U.N. peacekeeping force in the Congo. The measure also imposes an arms embargo on rebel forces.

The 15-member Security Council voted unanimously to add about 2,000 troops in the Congo. The resolution increases the number of U.N. troops from 8,700 to nearly 11,000 and extends the mission, called MONUC, for one year.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan welcomed the measure, which authorizes the peacekeepers to "use all necessary means to fulfill its mandate" in the troubled northeastern Ituri region and the North and South Kivu in Eastern Congo.

The troops are expected to replace a French-led multinational force of close to 1,500 troops deployed until September first in the town of Bunia, the site of a massacre of scores of civilians earlier this year.

"We have been lucky to get the multinational force to go in to try and contain the situation, stop the killing and allow the humanitarian assistance to go through. But now with this resolution, we will be able to send in an expanded force into Ituri just before the multi-national force withdraws," said Mr. Annan.

Mr. Annan said that South African troops already deployed in the Congo, and possibly Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Indian forces, will take part in the bolstered peacekeeping mission.

The resolution, which also imposes an arms embargo on rebel groups, authorizes the U.N. force to protect civilians and humanitarian workers. It also aims to improve security to allow the flow of humanitarian aid.

The measure has been under discussion for several weeks.

The United States was initially reluctant to support the troop increase in the Congo. U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte told reporters that the new transitional government and neighboring states must also contribute to restoring peace to the Central African nation. "Today's resolution will allow the United Nations to continue to play a constructive role in the DRC. The new transitional government and neighboring states must also play theirs," he said.

The resolution says that neighboring Rwanda and Uganda should help influence militias quote "to settle their disputes by peaceful means and join in the process of national reconciliation."

Rebel groups backed by neighboring countries have fueled Congo's bloody civil war that began in 1998. More than two million have died, most of them civilians, from hunger and disease caused by the fighting.