International organization would set precedent with controversial UAVs
Unmanned, unarmed aerial vehicles could assist the MONUSCO mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, U.N. peacekeepers tell AFP. "M23" guerillas have seized control of the mineral-rich eastern portions of the country.
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"Unarmed aerial vehicles, drones for monitoring the movements of armed groups, are one tool we are considering," U.N. peacekeeping spokesman Kieran Dwyer told AFP. "Of course, we would do this carefully, in full cooperation with the government of the DR Congo, and trialing their most effective uses for information gathering to help implement our mandate to protect civilians."
This would be the first time the U.N. employed drones, which the international organization previously considered prohibitively expensive. New developments have brought the price down, though some regional leaders believe it still isn't worth the cost.
[U.N. REPORT: Rwanda Commanding Rebels in Congo]
"This is controversial, not all countries agree with this," AFP reports Rwandan counselor to the U.N. mission Olivier Nduhungirehe as saying.
Western countries have already deployed drones to other warring regions of Africa. France reportedly sent unmanned surveillance vehicles over Mali in October to monitor what it says is increasingly threatening activity in the al-Qaeda stronghold. Seven French citizens have been taken hostage in the West African country since September 2010, including one on Thursday, according to an AllAfrica.com report.
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The U.N. says drones over the Congo would only be used for surveillance, but many regional countries are worried that this new precedent could open the door to other uses.
"In Congo, the drones could spot any troops and weapons coming across the border which is good," a Security Council diplomat tells AFP. "But there are a lot of countries with secrets to hide. If the drones are used in other missions, who will guard the information and guarantee that it does not get passed on."
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The U.N. says neighboring Rwanda and Uganda have already sent troops across the border, though both countries deny these claims.
A coalition of roughly 17,500 troops from nearly 50 countries have participated in U.N.-backed peacekeeping efforts. Officials say they must not replace the Congolese military, which has all but collapsed under clashes with militant groups.