UN battles resistance to DR Congo intervention brigade

Resistance to a planned UN intervention brigade for Democratic Republic of Congo could hold up a Security Council vote approving the first "targeted offensive operations" by UN troops, diplomats said Thursday.

A draft resolution has been sent to the 15 council members setting out the unique mandate for the proposed force as part of a new drive by UN leader Ban Ki-Moon to bring peace to the strife-torn region.

But doubts raised by key contributors to UN peacekeeping operations mean the vote may be delayed until next month when Rwanda, DR Congo's arch-rival, will be council president.

Countries such as Pakistan, India and other major UN troop contributors have expressed fears that the intervention brigade will make regular peacekeepers a target for attacks, diplomats said.

The resolution would set up the 2,500-strong intervention brigade for a one-year trial to counter the M23 group and other armed bands that have brought deadly havoc to eastern DR Congo, forcing hundreds of thousands to flee their homes.

The draft, obtained by AFP, would order the force to "carry out targeted offensive operations, either unilaterally or jointly with the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC), in a robust, highly mobile and versatile manner."

The resolution calls on the UN force "to prevent the expansion of all armed groups, neutralize these groups, and to disarm them" as part of the campaign to end threats to the DR Congo government's authority.

It would be the first time that a UN peacekeeping force has been given such a strong mandate.

Ban has pressed for the creation of the intervention brigade as part of the regional peace plan that was signed by 11 African countries, including DR Congo and Rwanda last month.

The 11 promised not to interfere in the affairs of their neighbors and Ban this week named Mary Robinson, the former Irish president, as Great Lakes region special envoy to pursue political efforts to end the DR Congo conflict.

Temporary council members Pakistan and Guatemala have raised security fears about the intervention brigade. Both have troops in the UN mission MONUSCO.

"We have to see what kind of unit (it will be), how it will relate to the overall mission," said Pakistan's UN ambassador Masood Khan.

Russia and China have raised doubts about the principle of the intervention brigade. The United States has reservations about whether the brigade will be tough enough for the intended mission.

Troops from South Africa, Tanzania and Mozambique have been touted as the likely candidates to launch the intervention brigade, diplomats said.

M23 became a major threat in November when it briefly took Goma, capital of the resource-rich region. UN experts accused Rwanda and Uganda of backing the group.

But battles between rival factions of M23 and the surrender of one faction leader, Bosco Ntaganda, to the US embassy in Kigali have weakened the rebel force.

"The troop contributing countries question whether the brigade is really necessary. The latest events with M23 have been perfect for them to criticize a project that they never really wanted," said one UN diplomat.

But another Security Council diplomat said "the latest developments with M23 do not remove the argument for the intervention force" which was a key part of Ban's regional peace accord.

"The M23 remains strong and there are other groups which are a threat. The DR Congo government strongly wants the force and other countries in the region agree with them. The case for the intervention force is still strong," said the envoy.