UNITED NATIONS - The United Nations said Tuesday that nearly three months after a political agreement was signed in the Democratic Republic of Congo, its implementation remains stalled, threatening security and stability.
“As long as political dialogue remains in a stalemate, the tensions risk mounting,” Maman Sidikou, the head of the U.N. mission in DRC, MONUSCO, warned Security Council members.
A bleak report from the U.N. secretary-general chronicles spreading violence – including in previously stable areas, such as Tanganyika, where there has been inter-communal violence, and in Kasai and Lomami provinces, where militias have clashed with the army, killing more than 200 civilians. Mass graves also have been reported in Kasai. Last week, two U.N. experts and their four Congolese colleagues disappeared in the province and fears are growing for their safe return.
Human rights abuses also are alarmingly high – more than 5,000 violations last year -- the majority at the hands of state agents, primarily the police. The U.N. reports continued activity of armed groups in the country’s east - including the resurgence of elements of the rebel group M23 - who were defeated in November 2013.
“The risk of electoral violence also remains high, mainly in urban areas,” Sidikou warned.
Meanwhile, displacements remain high, with more than 2.2 million Congolese forced from their homes.
In December, President Joseph Kabila remained in power after his constitutional mandate expired, sparking unrest and reigniting fears that the country of 67 million would slide backwards and return to violence and civil war. The country is still trying to work its way through the political crisis, towards elections later this year.
But there have been significant obstacles along the way. A deal signed between the government and opposition on December 31, 2016 has not been implemented, and in February, 84-year-old opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi died. There also have been disagreements between the two sides over designating a candidate for prime minister.
“The government has no intention of trying to delay implementation of the [December 31, 2016] agreement,” Congolese Foreign Minister Leonard She Okitundu told the council. He noted that the parties resumed negotiations on March 16 and that he is optimistic they will bridge their differences.
He said President Kabila is determined to continue the process toward organizing elections, and said close to 12 million voters have been registered of an anticipated 41 million throughout the country.
Largest UN Peacekeeping Mission
The peacekeeping mission in the DRC is the United Nations' largest, with 20,000 troops and police, and its most costly, at more than $1.2 billion annually to operate. The Kabila government is eager to see the mission wind down and withdraw, while some Security Council members are looking to streamline its size and expense.
The mission’s mandate is up for renewal before the end of this month, and council members are debating what changes are necessary.
“There was some support for a reduction in numbers [of peacekeepers], but also some concern that this year in particular -- with elections coming up by the end of the year -- is not the moment to reduce in any way the ability of MONUSCO to provide protection of civilians,” Council President British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft told reporters.
Due to the increasing threat of violence, the U.N. chief has asked for two additional police units for areas likely to be “electoral hotspots” - Lubumbashi and Kananga. He also has recommended the possible deployment of additional “specialized capabilities,” including intelligence assets and specialized ground troops. He said that would be accomplished by reducing other MONUSCO troops, not requiring an increase in the current force size.