Neutral troops heading to Congo: AU official
MONUSCO peacekeepers standing on a hillside position in the DRC (file photo)Wed Jan 9, 2013 3:41AM GMT
An African Union official says ministers of the countries in the Great Lakes region support a merger between the UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) with a future neutral force.
Ramtane Lamamra, the AU's peace and security commissioner, made the remarks after a meeting of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region held in Addis Ababa on Tuesday.
Lamamra stated, "The general direction of discussions is towards a formula, a creative formula that would amalgamate" MONUSCO with an international neutral force.
However, he did not elaborate on how a neutral force will be able to work together with 19,000 UN soldiers already in the country.
He said the plan could be sent to the UN within a week, after there is an agreement on its technical details, adding, "We were informed that perhaps the commanding staff, the commanding officers, would be deployed in the next few weeks."
Earlier in the day, the March 23 movement (M23) rebels declared a unilateral truce before a second round of peace talks with the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
In late December 2012, the UN Security Council imposed sanctions on two rebel groups fighting in the east of the DRC.
The Security Council unanimously agreed to impose an arms embargo on the M23 movement and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda.
The UN has accused neighboring Rwanda and Uganda of helping rebels in the eastern Congo, an accusation both countries vehemently deny.
Since early May, over 900,000 people have fled their homes in the eastern Congo. Most of them have resettled in Congo, but tens of thousands have crossed into Rwanda and Uganda.
Congo has faced numerous problems over the past few decades, such as grinding poverty, crumbling infrastructure, and a war in the east of the country that has dragged on since 1998 and left over 5.5 million people dead.