The UN Security Council has authorized the deployment of 3,000 new military and police personnel to help end the fighting in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
The majority of the UN deployment will be troops with police officers making up the rest
The Security Council resolution on Thursday, Nov. 20, said the length of deployment of the additional 2,785 military personnel and 300 police officers to the UN mission in DR Congo (MONUC) would hinge on the security situation.
"This temporary increase in personnel aims at enabling MONUC to reinforce its capacity to protect civilians, to reconfigure its structure and forces and to optimize their deployment," it said. The resolution was sponsored by France, which has long-standing interest in central Africa.
UN move could stir EU
The European Union has said it would not send troops to DR Congo at this time. However French Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert said ahead of the resolution that France, Belgium and Sweden were considering how to give DR Congo added help by arriving ahead of UN peacekeepers to secure areas around Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu province.
New clashes erupted outside Kiwanja Thursday
Once the council approves the additional peacekeeping troops "it will then be easier for the European Union to try to see what they can do on the purely humanitarian side," said Ripert, as reported by AP news agency.
The additional MONUC troops were requested by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to man a separation zone between the warring parties in eastern DR Congo, where fighting has disrupted entire areas and displaced tens of thousands of Congolese.
Alan Doss, the UN special envoy for DR Congo, said Tuesday that MONUC, the biggest UN peacekeeping mission in the world, will be redeployed with the new additional forces to North Kivu, the site of recent fighting. He had urged the council to authorize the additional troops.
MONUC already has 17,000 troops in DR Congo. Five thousand of those UN troops are in North Kivu where fighting flared at the end of August. Military officials have stressed that even this large figure is not enough to deal with the deteriorating situation.
"It's very good news," said Lieutenant Colonel Jean-Paul Dietrich after the Security Council decision. "It will give us some capability to react much faster to any major crisis" and to provide a humanitarian corridor if there is any major flux of refugees, he explained.
New clashes reported
The UN Security Council decision in New York came hours after new clashes between rebels and pro-government Mai-Mai militia outside Kiwanja, the scene of fierce fighting earlier this month in which at least 50 civilians were killed.
UN forces are accused of aggression by the Mai-Mai
Meanwhile, rebels from the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) led by Laurent Nkunda remain on the threshold of Goma.
On the diplomatic front, the Angolan foreign ministry said DR Congo President Joseph Kabila will visit Luanda on Friday to meet with Angola's leader Jose Eduardo dos Santos to discuss the conflict.
Angola last week denied it plans to send troops to DR Congo to fight alongside government forces.
UN peacekeepers accused of aggression
Thursday's fighting erupted in the morning in Katoro and Nyongera, both villages on the northern outskirts of Kiwanja in the North Kivu province.
By mid-day, correspondents in the area reported that the sound of heavy weapons firing had ceased, as the Mai-Mai accused UN troops of fighting alongside the rebels.
"MONUC fired on our forces, they found themselves in difficulty and called for help to the CNDP," said Mai-Mai spokesman Didier Bitaki. "It is a CNDP/MONUC coalition against the Mai-Mai."
MONUC denied the charge and classified the flare-up as "a minor incident."
Dietrich said the Mai-Mai turned "and went back the way they came" after Indian UN forces "negotiated" with them.
On Wednesday, UN peacekeepers opened fire on the Mai-Mai fighters after two UN armored cars on patrol came under Mai-Mai gunfire.
UN special envoy accuses rebels of abuses
In another development Thursday, MONUC chief Alan Doss accused the rebels of serious violations of human rights.
Nkunda and his rebels are accused of human rights abuses
"MONUC has catalogued the execution of a 21-year-old on Nov. 15 and the executions of two civilians on Nov. 16 by elements of your forces in Kiwanja," wrote Doss in a letter to rebel leader Nkunda, and also cited cases of kidnappings and disappearances reported to UN officials.
Nkunda was asked to "take all appropriate measures... to put an end to these (violations)" and "mount a detailed enquiry in order to identify the authors of these odious crimes."
Thursday's fighting came a day after Nkunda's rebels pulled back 30 to 40 kilometers (20 to 25 miles) from two other fronts in North Kivu, at points away from the current fighting.
They did so, they said, in order to "give peace a chance" and to help mediation efforts undertaken by the UN envoy to DR Congo, former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo.