In the Democratic Republic of Congo, a cabinet minister says the administration is forming a competent national army to take over after the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission (MONUC) withdraws by the end of next year.
Lambert Mende says President Joseph Kabila’s government is determined not to surrender the country’s sovereignty.
“We have decided that they (MONUC) withdraw before the end of 2011 because we are living under an exceptional period for 11 years now. We think that enough is enough, and we need really to recover a normal way of living as a country … So we do not like to be something like a weight for humanity and the world,” he said.
Some political observers say the government’s demand for MONUC’s total withdrawal could undermine the fragile peace the country currently enjoys after the administration signed peace deals with several armed groups.
But information minister Mende said Congo’s new army will adequately deal with any security challenges.
“We have started building a new army for quite a number of years here and we hope that by 2011 we would have finished to build a body that will help us to cater (defense) for (the) security of our people. Because we want to remain in the situation we are now for good. We think that we are improving…and where we would be (at) the end of 2011 will help us to afford our challenges,” Mende said.
Congo is scheduled to celebrate 50 years of independence on June 30 of this year. Some political observers suggest that by demanding MONUC’s total withdrawal, Kinshasa wants to demonstrate it no longer relies on the 20,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force to maintain security.
But Mende said it’s the improved security conditions – not the anniversary that formed the administration’s decision to demand the peacekeepers’ withdrawal.
“We can’t accept this interpretation. It is not because we are celebrating our anniversary. We are a free state. Independence or not, we must act as a free people…We are entitled to say we are now capable of meeting our own needs. Nobody has to give us the authorization to become autonomous as a people or as a state,” Mende said.
The U.N. Mission in Congo employs the largest peacekeeping operation in any country with an estimated budget of more than $1 billion.
In December, the Security Council extended MONUC’s mandate until May 31. The U.N. body unanimously adopted resolution 1906 calling on peacekeepers to “use all necessary measures” to protect Congo’s unarmed civilian population.