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UN Envoy: Bridging Force Needed in DRC Until Reinforcements Arrive

Last week, the U.N. Security Council approved a request for a temporary surge of 3,000 peacekeepers to bolster the overstretched U.N. mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, or DRC. Possible troop contributors met on Wednesday at the United Nations. Meanwhile, the Security Council heard from the top envoy to the DRC on the challenges facing the current mission, as its mandate comes up for renewal next month. From United Nations headquarters in New York, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more.

The U.N.'s special envoy for the DRC, Alan Doss, said the additional peacekeepers must be of sufficient strength to be effective.

He said such force is necessary to discourage new military action by the rebel forces of renegade Congolese General Laurent Nkunda or other armed groups, and so peace talks have a chance to progress.

Some 250,000 people have been displaced in eastern Congo since August, when the latest round of fighting between the rebels and the government began.

Doss said deployment of reinforcements to the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, or MONUC, could take several months. He added that the delay entails serious risks for the situation in North Kivu, where he warned a new escalation of violence is possible.

"This is why we have and continue to support the calls for the deployment of a multinational force as a bridging measure until MONUC is fully reinforced," said Alan Doss.

Doss also recommended that the U.N. Security Council consider authorizing a complementary stand-by force that could be mobilized quickly in case there is a rapid deterioration in the security situation.

The Security Council is expected to renew MONUC's mandate in December for another 12 months. It is also considering whether to make changes to the force's mandate.

Doss said it is important that the Security Council review the mandate in light of recent developments on the ground and the need to adapt to new realities.

In addition to protecting civilians, a core element of the current mandate is that peacekeepers support operations of the Congolese armed forces, known as the FARDC. But problems within that force have put additional burdens on MONUC.

"Unfortunately in some respects, the FARDC has broken its own ranks by disintegrating and dissolving," he said. "This has been a real problem because, in some areas, the FARDC should be the first line of protection for civilians. But they have not done that."

In his latest report on the DRC, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that Congolese army and police elements are responsible for a large number of serious human rights abuses - including arbitrary executions, rape, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. The U.N. chief said foreign armed groups have also committed such heinous crimes with impunity.

At 17,000-strong, MONUC is the United Nations' largest peacekeeping operation. But the large population and territory it must protect means that there are only 10 peacekeepers for every 10,000 civilians in North Kivu.