Too early to withdraw UN forces in DRC, US warns

South African peacekeepers from the United Nations Organization Stabilisation Mission in Congo (MONUSCO) standing on a hillside position above the village of Remek, in Masisi territory of the Democratic Republic of the Congo's North Kivu province in 2012. PHOTO | PHIL MORE | AFP

United Nations,

Withdrawing UN peacekeepers from the Democratic Republic of Congo, which Kinshasa has suggested take place after December elections, would be premature, the United States warned Monday.

"A precipitous withdrawal of MONUSCO would likely leave a security vacuum that state authorities are unable to fill," said deputy ambassador Robert Wood, adding that it would lead to more activity by armed groups. He referred to the force by its acronym.

Wood's remarks, during a Security Council meeting on the situation in DR Congo, came as UN missions across the continent face calls from both government officials and protesters to leave.

The UN mission in the former Zaire has come under criticism from locals as violence from armed groups continues to rock the resource-rich east of the country.

Violent protests have popped up against MONUSCO, accused of failing to protect civilians.

Later this week the UN is set to consider a vote on its peacekeeping forces in Mali, after Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop requested their withdrawal "without delay," denouncing what he called their failure to meet security challenges.

The UN is likely to agree to Mali's request, according to diplomatic sources.

"As we have said many times, MONUSCO cannot -- and should not -- stay in the DRC indefinitely," Wood said.

"But there is broad consensus that the DRC government will have not met the benchmarks it agreed upon as the minimum conditions for MONUSCO's drawdown by the end of 2023."

In 2020, the Security Council approved a plan for a phased withdrawal in DR Congo, setting parameters for transferring the responsibilities of UN troops to Congolese forces.

Late last year the council approved an extension of the mission.

At the same time, it asked Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to present in July options for the reconfiguration of MONUSCO.

In place since 1999, MONUSCO is one of the UN's most important, and most costly, missions ever undertaken.

Kinshasa has suggested a withdrawal following December's general elections.

"My government continues to have constructive dialogue with MONUSCO to define the transition plan," Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, DR Congo's ambassador to the UN, said Monday.

"The vision is to concentrate on the milestones needed to creat the minimal security conditions -- a prelude to a good withdrawal."