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UN to cut force in violence-wracked DR Congo

March 31, 2017

The UN vote came just hours after a prosecutor for the ICC said war-crimes may have been committed in the DR Congo. The UN is also pressing President Joseph Kabila to honor a power-sharing deal with the opposition.

Kongo Kananga Tshimbulu MONUSCO
Image: Reuters/A. Ross

The UN Security Council voted unanimously Friday to cut more than 3,000 troops from the agency's largest mission.

There are nearly 20,000 blue-helmeted troops in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), but today's vote would reduce that number to little more than 16,200.

The move comes despite opposition from the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has been investigating war crimes in the DRC since 2004.

Recent violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, including the murders of two foreign United Nations experts, could constitute war crimes, according to ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda.

At least 400 people have been killed in an escalation of violence that began last August when government forces killed a tribal leader who opposed President Joseph Kabila.

"I am deeply concerned by the numerous reports over the past several months of serious acts of violence in the DRC, particularly in the Kasai province," Bensouda said in a statement issued in The Hague.

"I shall not hesitate to take action if acts constituting crimes within the jurisdiction of the court are committed and to take all necessary measures to prosecute those responsible," she said.

Kongo Joseph Kabila
President Joseph KabilaImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/J.Bompengo

The remote central province of Kasai, where local leader Kamwina Nsapu was killed last year, has been the epicenter of the violence, which has since spread to the neighboring provinces of Kasai-Oriental and Lomami.

Kidnapping and murder

The bodies of two foreign UN experts - American Michael Sharp and Swedish national Zaida Catalan, who went missing earlier this month - were found this week. One of the bodies was decapitated. Four Congolese nationals who were accompanying them are still missing.

The UN council paid tribute to the slain workers on Friday. Diplomats said the murdered duo was investigating reports of mass graves.

Last week, 39 police were killed in an ambush by rebels in Kasai.

Bensouda called on all parties to "refrain from recurring to criminal violence" while calling on the Congolese government to bring the perpetrators to justice in the violence-stricken central African country.

The ICC was set up in 2002 to probe and prosecute the world's worst crimes. Their investigations in the DRC led to the ICC's first two convictions.

Thomas Lubanga
Convicted war-criminal Thomas LubangaImage: picture-alliance/dpa/D.Pool

Warlord Thomas Lubanga was sentenced to 14 years for using children in his rebel army, and Germain Katanga was given a 12-year sentence for an ethnic attack in 2003 on a village in the war-torn northeast Ituri province.

A third trial, for Bosco Ntaganda, is still ongoing. He is facing 18 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. He denies the charges but prosecutors say he played a central role in the Ituri conflict, which has left some 60,000 dead since 1999, according to rights' groups.

The UN is pressing Kabila to honor a power-sharing agreement with the opposition ahead of elections later this year. It remains unclear whether Kabila will cede power this year.

bik/kl (AFP, Reuters)