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UN Security Council Agrees on 6,000 More Peacekeepers for Congo - 2004-09-30

The U.N. Security Council has agreed to authorize nearly 6,000 more peacekeeping troops for the Democratic Republic of Congo. The figure is less than half what Secretary-General Kofi Annan had requested.

The Security Council set a Friday vote on a resolution raising the ceiling on the size of the Congo peacekeeping force from just under 11,000 to 17,500. Diplomats say the measure will be adopted by consensus.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan had proposed more than doubling the force to help the central African country, which is struggling to rebuild after five years of civil war. But his request was cut to less than half during weeks of debate among Security Council members.

Nevertheless, the increase will make the Congo force the largest U.N peacekeeping operation.

Britain's U.N. Ambassador Emyr Jones-Parry, who takes over the Security Council's rotating presidency Friday, said the 6000 increase is all that was politically feasible, given the heavy demand for peacekeepers worldwide. But he said further commitments might be possible after further review.

"You don't need look much higher than 6000," he said. "We'd be saying this is our best shot now, but subject to review, and the review will carry everybody along."

Ambassador Jones-Parry described the infusion of additional peacekeepers as "an intensification of the effort" to restore calm in Congo after a war that left an estimated three million people dead.

The resolution being adopted Friday calls for a review of the force level in six months.

Most of the additional troops will be sent to the Congo's volatile Ituri district, home to seven competing armed factions.

U.N. officials say a $10.5 million program to disarm the factions got off to a slow start this month. The say only 32 militiamen had handed in their weapons two weeks after the program began.

The disarmament and community reintegration program is hoping to persuade an estimated 15,000 faction members, 6000 of them children, to lay down their weapons. But officials say the massacre of at least 16 civilians at the town of Bunia in mid-September undermined confidence and renewed fears of a new outbreak of fighting.