Factfile on the Democratic Republic of Congo

Key facts on the Democratic Republic of Congo, after the UN Security Council approved its first-ever "offensive" peacekeeping brigade to battle rebels in the troubled east:

GEOGRAPHY: The biggest and most populous country in central Africa at 2,345,000 square kilometres (906,000 square miles), it is almost as big as all of western Europe. The capital, Kinshasa, is located on the Congo River, the second-longest in Africa at 4,700 kilometres (2,900 miles).

DR Congo borders nine countries -- the Central African Republic and Sudan to its north; Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania to its east; Zambia and Angola to the south and the Republic of Congo to the west. The country has a short stretch of coastline on the Atlantic Ocean.

The eastern region of North Kivu, on the borders with both Rwanda and Uganda, is where the latest fighting is focused.

POPULATION: Estimated at 67.8 million in 2011 with more than 200 ethnic groups.

LANGUAGES: French (official); Lingala, Swahili, Tshiluba, Kikongo and more than 200 vernacular languages.

RELIGION: 85 percent Christian; Muslim and animist minorities.

HISTORY: Personal fiefdom of Belgian King Leopold II from 1885 to 1908, when it became the colony of Belgian Congo. Under Belgian rule, notably that of King Leopold, the Congo suffered horrific human rights abuses.

Civil war broke out almost immediately after independence in 1960. Division of power between President Joseph Kasa-Vubu and Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, a popular leader assassinated in 1961.

General Joseph-Desire Mobutu staged a coup in 1965, renaming the country Zaire and himself Mobutu Sese Seko. He set up a dictatorial kleptocracy that lasted 32 years.

Mobutu was toppled in 1997 by rebel leader Laurent Kabila, who renamed the country the Democratic Republic of Congo.

War raged again from 1998 to 2003. The regional conflict drew in some seven countries and became known as "Africa's World War".

Kabila was killed by his presidential guard in 2001 and replaced by his then-29-year-old son, current President Joseph Kabila.

Since 1998 more than three million people are estimated to have died of combat, disease and hunger and 1.6 million have been left homeless. The conflict has gone hand-in-hand with a scramble for DR Congo's vast natural resources.

A peace accord creating a power-sharing government was signed in December 2002, paving the way to multi-party elections. But in the east, armed groups have continued attacking and raping civilians.

In October 2006 Kabila won the second round of a presidential election against vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba, who is now on trial for war crimes at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Kabila won re-election in 2011 in a vote that was criticised by international observers.

In February 2013, 11 African countries signed a UN-brokered deal to bring peace and stability to the eastern DRC.

ECONOMY: Enormous potential wealth, with 34 percent of the world's cobalt reserves, 10 percent of its copper reserves and deposits of oil, diamonds, gold, silver, zinc and uranium.

The formal mining sector nearly collapsed in the early 1990s from pillaging and a lack of investment. Rights groups regularly accuse soldiers, rebel groups and local militias of profiting from illegal mining.

Farm economy relies on coffee and cassava. The informal sector makes up more than 80 percent of the economy.

DR Congo is classified as a low-income country by the World Bank.

71 percent of the population live below the poverty line, and life expectancy at birth is 48 years (World Bank, 2011).

Average gross national income per person: $194 (World Bank, 2011)

Foreign debt: In July 2010 the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank unveiled $12.3 billion in debt relief for DR Congo.

Currency: Congolese franc (FC).

MILITARY: Estimated 110,000 troops, including former rebels

United Nations observer mission (MONUC) deployed since 1999. The peacekeeping mission became MONUSCO -- the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo -- in 2010 and is one of the largest UN peacekeeping operations in the world with more 19,000 uniformed personnel.

On March 28, 2013, the UN Security Council approved a mandate for a 3,000 strong force to "neutralise" and "disarm" rebel groups.