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UN Security Council Weighs Troop Request for Congo

The U.N. Security Council is continuing to weigh whether to authorize a request from the secretary-general for an additional 3,000 peacekeepers to reinforce the U.N.'s overstretched peacekeeping mission in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. From United Nation's headquarters in New York, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more.

The U.N. head of peacekeeping, Alain Le Roy, who has just returned from a mission to the Kivu provinces in the heart of eastern Congo's conflict zone, briefed council members behind closed doors Tuesday afternoon.

Afterwards he told reporters he hopes the 15-member council will act by the end of the month and grant the United Nation's request for reinforcements to its peacekeeping mission.

"Although we have almost 10,000 troops in the Kivus, it is still insufficient," said Alain Le Roy. "Ten thousand troops in the Kivus - the population of the Kivus is 10 million inhabitants. So it means we will have in fact, 10 peacekeepers for 10,000 civilians to protect in the Kivus."

He said the mission, which at 17,000 troops is the United Nations largest anywhere, has reconfigured its personnel to concentrate them in the most violent areas. He said now 95 percent of troops are in the east.

Le Roy said the mood in the council was supportive of strengthening the force. But some council members expressed reluctance.

British Ambassador John Sawers said the council will need to be clear that the existing forces are being put to the best possible use before sending in additional troops. Citing conflicts in Somalia, Darfur, Chad and the Central African Republic, he said the council faces many demands for peacekeeping.

"There is not a bottomless pit of peacekeepers, so we do need to make absolutely sure we are making the best possible use of the troops that already exist in the largest peacekeeping force in the world," said John Sawers.

Congo's Ambassador (Atoki Ileka), said his country needs both troops and equipment. He said the U.N. peacekeeping force lacks both intelligence capabilities and firepower.

Earlier Tuesday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he hopes the council will act quickly in authorizing the additional troops for the overstretched peacekeeping mission.

"We remain caught in a very volatile and dangerous moment for the DRC and for the region," he said.

He said fighting between the rebels and government forces has cut off aid to at least 100,000 displaced people, and that their situation has grown "increasingly desperate." He called for an immediate ceasefire to allow aid to get through.