UNITED NATIONS— The United Nations Security Council has authorized a special “intervention brigade” to pursue armed groups in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo as part of its peacekeeping operation in that country.
The council says its move is not to be considered a “precedent” for U.N. peacekeeping operations, but the force of about 3,000 troops from South Africa, Malawi and Tanzania has offensive duties not typical of regular peacekeepers.
U.N. peacekeeping chief Hervé Ladsous said this type of specialized brigade within a peacekeeping mission could be an important new tool in combating violence against civilians.
“This of course, is a very new tool, because it means for the first time that there will be a peace enforcement capacity which will carry out targeted offensive operations, either in support of the Congolese army or unilaterally in order to neutralize the armed groups - the negative forces that have created so much suffering over the years," said Ladsous.
The U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing the force, adopted unanimously on Thursday, tasks it with preventing the expansion of armed groups, such as the M23, neutralizing and disarming them in a bid to stabilize the conflict-wracked region.
The peacekeeping chief said it will be a “deterrent aided by muscle,” and he hopes, a turning point in the two-decade-old conflict.
The foreign minister of Congo attended Thursday’s meeting and welcomed the new addition to the U.N. mission, which is known by its French acronym MONUSCO.
But the creation of the intervention brigade has not been without controversy. Although all 15 council members voted in favor of it, there were some concerns expressed about how it will work. Guatemalan Ambassador Gert Rosenthal voiced his reservations.
“Our concern is that all of MONUSCO runs the risk of indirectly being converted into a peace enforcement mission, which raises many conceptual considerations, as well as operational and legal considerations, which we feel were not sufficiently explored in the course of negotiations of this text," said Rosenthal.
Rwanda, which has been accused of supporting rebels in eastern Congo, is currently a member of the Security Council and voted in favor of the brigade, saying it hoped the council would “finally be able to free itself of preconceived ideas from the past” and “distance itself from the policy of scapegoats.”
Thursday’s resolution extends the mandate of the MONUSCO mission for another year and authorizes the use of unmanned aerial vehicles - often referred to as drones - for surveillance.
Drones are often armed, but these will be unarmed and used to collect information on violations of the arms embargo and movements of rebel groups in border areas. Peacekeeping officials have previously said they hope to have three UAVs in Congo very soon.
The U.N. peacekeeping mission in the DRC is one of its largest, with nearly 20,000 military personnel.