JUNE 30, 2010: UN's Focus Remains Civilian Protection, Ban Says on Eve of Mission Change

UN's Focus Remains Civilian Protection, Ban Says on Eve of Mission Change
SOURCE: UN News Service

As the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) transforms into a stabilization force, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has stressed that the world body's main priority of protecting civilians will continue.

Last month, the Security Council passed a resolution authorizing the withdrawal of up to 2,000 UN military personnel - from an existing strength of 19,815 - by today from areas where security has improved enough to allow their removal.

The UN mission, currently known as MONUC, will be known starting tomorrow as the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) and will stay in the country only until 30 June next year.

Despite its new name, "this is not a new mission," but rather a reflection of the Council's recognition of the new phase which the DRC has entered, Mr. Ban told the UN-sponsored Radio Okapi station yesterday in the capital, Kinshasa.

Like previous resolutions, the latest one "stresses the need to give priority to civilian protection and use all means to fulfil this mandate of protection," he noted.

This also encompasses, he said, ensuring the safety of humanitarian workers, human rights defenders and UN personnel, facilities, installations and equipment.

The Secretary-General pointed to the continued activity of rebels - such as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and notorious Ugandan group known as the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) - who are "still causing much suffering" in the country's volatile east.

Like MONUC, MONUSCO will be authorized to support the Congolese army's operations against such armed groups, provided that it complies with international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law, among others.

"Much as been accomplished since the arrival of MONUC in 1999, including the pacification of much of the territory, the holding of democratic elections [and] the creation of State institutions," Mr. Ban said.

The country, he added, has entered now crossed into a new chapter marked by consolidation and stabilization.

The Secretary-General's visit to the DRC coincides with the country's commemoration of half a century of independence from Belgium.

"This celebration is a historic moment for the Congolese," Mr. Ban said, voicing the UN's continued commitment to work with the nation toward its future.

"The DRC has an important role to play in Africa and the world, a role that includes both the issue of sustainable economic development as climate change or biodiversity protection," he emphasized.

The UN chief acknowledged that the world body's efforts in the DRC and before that in Congo have "not been without difficulty," but expressed pride that the UN's tens of thousands of peacekeepers and staff have helped the country through tough times.

This trip is Mr. Ban's third to Africa over the past month. While in the DRC, he will hold talks with President Joseph Kabila and other officials, before travelling to Gabon for the second half of his trip.

In his other two visits to the continent in June, he has visited Malawi, Uganda, South Africa, Burundi, Cameroon, Benin and Sierra Leone.