The United Nations Security Council has unanimously renewed for one year the mandate of it peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo but reduced its troop cap from almost 20 000 to just over 16 000.

Despite growing concerns over the political and security situation ahead of presidential elections this year, the Council did not accede to a request from the Secretary General for the deployment of additional two police units after pressure from the United States to cut the size and costs of peacekeeping missions around the world.

The council also paid tribute to two UN investigators and an interpreter brutally murdered in the country after their bodies were discovered earlier this week.

Human rights investigators Michael Sharp of the United States, Swedish national Zaida Catalan and their interpreter Betu Tshintela became victims of negative forces in Kasai Province.

“Michael and Zaida lost their lives seeking to bring peace to the DRC and its people. I now invite council members to rise to observe a minute of silence in their memory and in the memory of all the victims of violence in the DRC.” A moment of silence was observed by the Council.

The mandate extension unanimously adopted but troop cuts will not affect the three-thousand strong Force Intervention Brigade to which South Africa contributes a battalion.

“The resolution sends a clear message in response. And in particular, we welcome that it does these three things; it gives clear priority to the essential tasks of protecting of civilians and supporting the implementation of the Political Agreement; it reaffirms the importance of human rights including monitoring and reporting on human rights in the context of the elections; and it retains Monusco’s robust mandate to tackle armed groups in order to protect civilians, including through the Intervention Brigade.” says UK Ambassador Matthew Rycroft who is also President of the Council for March.

“What we need to focus on is not the number of people we have on the ground, it’s the quality of the work that’s happening on the ground so what we’re seeing is an area where – yes we can have thousands and thousands of troops but if they’re not really working to keep the Congolese safe, none of that matters, and so with that I was very pleased that we did cut the troop ceiling but we made sure that where the troops are, are actually going to be more effective,” said United States Ambassador Nikki Haley.

In this regard we believe Monusco will have a special responsibility in securing a political space to permit free, fair and peaceful elections

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) welcomed the mandate’s renewal but expressed concerns about the political situation.

Tanzania’s Foreign Minister and chair of the SADC Organ on Politics, Augustine Mahiga says, “Security concerns shouldn’t again this time be used by the government and other political actors in Kinshasa to renege or delay the political commitment arrived on the 31st of December last year. In this regard we believe Monusco will have a special responsibility in securing a political space to permit free, fair and peaceful elections.”

Tanzania, Malawi and South Africa all contribute contingents to the Force Intervention Brigade that is confronted by the changing nature of combat operations that include asymmetric attacks and guerilla tactics by various armed groups.

While elections this year remain a huge concern for the region.

“The logistics of organizing elections in the DRC are daunting indeed. SADC is inviting and urging the international community to support the Congolese electoral commission in the registration of voters and organizing countrywide elections. Equally urgent is the need of all of us engaged in the partnership to put pressure on all political actors in the DRC to overcome the current political impasse in implementing the December 31st agreement.”

A SADC ministerial mission is expected to visit the DRC in two weeks.

– By Sherwin Bryce-Pease