On Thursday (sept 28th) the member states of the UN Security Council took note of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s request for an accelerated withdrawal of peacekeepers, although some expressed concern about the impact of a “hasty” departure on the civilian population.
Last week at the UN, Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi insisted on an “accelerated” withdrawal of the UN peacekeeping mission (MONUSCO) from his country from the end of 2023, rather than the end of 2024.
“We would like the Security Council to take full account of the concrete and realistic demands of the Congolese authorities”, declared French ambassador to the UN Nicolas de Rivière on Thursday, insisting on an “orderly” withdrawal, in “close collaboration” between Kinshasa and the UN.
UN peacekeepers have been present in the DRC for nearly 25 years, and the Council is due to renew MONUSCO’s mandate in December, although Kinshasa and some of the population are questioning its effectiveness in protecting civilians.
With the security crisis in the east of the country continuing unabated, several Member States have expressed doubts about the advisability of transferring MONUSCO’s tasks to Congolese forces on an accelerated basis.
“The United States is frankly concerned that the forces of the DRC and the region are not ready to meet the conditions required to ensure the security of the Congolese population”, said US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield.
For its part, the UK is prepared to consider “a reduction” in the number of peacekeepers “in line with the government’s request”, noted Deputy Ambassador James Kariuki. But “the consequences of a hasty departure would be serious”, he warned.
Congolese Foreign Minister Christophe Lutundula, deploring the Security Council’s “frozen” attitude, warned against any temptation to simply reconfigure MONUSCO. “A MONUSCO bis (…) would not be a mistake, but a mistake”, he insisted, calling for a “timetable” for the withdrawal plan.
“We need to discuss with our partners to see exactly what they have in mind”, commented MONUSCO head Bintou Keita, noting that it would not be “wise” at this stage to mention a date for the complete withdrawal of the Blue Helmets.
Since 2020, the Security Council has begun a cautious disengagement, approving a gradual withdrawal plan setting out broad parameters for transferring the responsibilities of the peacekeepers to Congolese forces.
In a report published in August, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, without specifying a timetable, spoke of initially reducing the number of peacekeepers from 12,500 to 10,500, while consolidating their presence in the at-risk territories of the east.