New York - Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is seeking additional resources to strengthen the UN peacekeeping force in the Democratic Republic of Congo with "intervention" troops, night-vision equipment, surveillance drones with cameras, and enhanced river patrols.
The UN spokesperson Martin Nesirky told reporters on Wednesday that Ban sent a letter to the Security Council on 27 December outlining the proposals which are aimed at improving the protection of civilians from the threat of armed groups in DRC’s vast mineral-rich eastern region which has been engulfed in fighting since the 1994 Rwanda genocide.
The UN diplomats said Ban is expected to send a report to the council later this month with specific recommendations for additional troops - possibly as many as 2 000 - that would actively intervene, for example, to prevent another takeover of the key eastern city of Goma.
The Security Council wants to beef up the UN peacekeeping force known as Monusco, which has more than 17 700 UN peacekeepers and over 1 400 international police, following last year's takeover of many villages and towns in eastern Congo by M23 rebels who briefly held Goma before withdrawing in early December.
The force — the largest of the UN's 15 far-flung peacekeeping operations — did little to protect the tens of thousands of civilians, many of whom fled their homes.
On Tuesday, the UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous briefed the Security Council on the proposed measures but ran into opposition from neighbouring Rwanda, which is believed to be backing the M23, especially on the possible deployment of unarmed drones. Diplomats said Russia was among the other countries raising concerns about the use of drones.
Rwanda's UN Ambassador Eugene-Richard Gasana said after that meeting that his government and others have legitimate concerns about the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, especially before an assessment from the UN Secretariat later this year on the legal, technical and financial implications of using UAVs.
"It might have a precedence on other countries," Gasana said. "We owe them a kind of explanation. It is about human beings, it is not about 'Star Wars.' We need this new technology, but at which cost?"
The Rwandan government denies any support for the M23, which is made up of hundreds of soldiers who deserted the Congolese army in April, mainly from the Tutsi ethnic group that was targeted for extermination by Hutu militias during the Rwanda genocide. Since withdrawing from Goma, M23 has taken steps toward negotiating with the Congolese government.
Diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because the consultations were closed, said France, Britain, the US and other Western countries back the deployment of drones and other advanced equipment in eastern DRC, saying it would enhance the ability of peacekeepers to track armed groups and help protect UN forces from ambushes.
The UN officials say drones could also be useful in other African conflicts and possibly in the search in Central Africa for leaders and members of the Lord's Resistance Army, a brutal gang of jungle militiamen headed by warlord Joseph Kony who is accused of war crimes by the International Criminal Court.
US State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said on Wednesday the US does supports the UN's unarmed drones in the DRC to help the UN peacekeeping effort.
"The DRC government has also welcomed the UN's request," she said, using the country's initials.
Ban said in a key part of the letter, obtained by The Associated Press, that Monusco needs more information, analysis and dissemination to enhance the awareness of peacekeepers "and to enable timely decision-making".
"This includes external imagery/electronic equipment and associated analysis capabilities, notably surveillance capability like that provided by unnamed aerial systems," the secretary-general said.
He said an additional river unit and shore-based radar equipment are also required "to provide enhanced coverage on lakes and rivers in the Kivus."