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U.N. aims to approve Congo "search and destroy" force

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council aims to approve on Thursday the creation of a special force that would carry out "targeted offensive operations" to wipe out armed groups in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, council diplomats said.

The 15-member Security Council was still negotiating on Wednesday a draft resolution to establish the so-called intervention brigade within the existing 20,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force in Congo, known as MONUSCO.

The United States had raised concerns that there was not a clear enough distinction between the job of the intervention brigade and the existing peacekeepers, but Britain and France hoped a compromise had been reached, diplomats said.

One senior council diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity, described the aim of the so-called intervention brigade as "search and destroy," unlike traditional peacekeeping operations which cannot open fire unless they are attacked.

According to the draft, MONUSCO would "carry out targeted offensive operations through the Intervention Brigade ... either unilaterally or jointly with the (Congo army), in a robust highly mobile and versatile manner ... to prevent expansion of all armed groups, neutralize these groups, and to disarm them."

It states that the intervention brigade would be made up of three infantry battalions, one artillery and one special force and reconnaissance company headquartered in Goma under the direct command of the MONUSCO force commander.

Diplomats say South Africa, Tanzania and Mozambique are the most likely candidates to supply the troops for the intervention unit. The draft resolution also says that a Congolese rapid reaction force should be created with the intention of taking over the work of the intervention brigade.

MONUSCO has a traditional peacekeeping mandate to protect civilians and support operations by the Congolese army in Congo - a country the size of Western Europe.

The draft resolution makes clear that the intervention brigade would be established "on an exceptional basis, and without creating a precedent or any prejudice to the agreed principles of peacekeeping."

DRONES TO MONITOR BORDER

Council diplomats said they would be watching the intervention brigade very closely as its success will be important for future peacekeeping operations.

African leaders signed a U.N.-mediated deal in February aimed at ending two decades of conflict in Congo's resource-rich east and paving the way for the Security Council to approve the creation of an intervention brigade.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has appointed former Irish President Mary Robinson as his envoy to Africa's Great Lakes region to oversee implementation of the peace deal.

Eastern Congo has been overrun with Congolese and foreign armed groups, in particular the M23 rebels, who began taking parts of eastern Congo early last year, accusing the government of failing to honour a 2009 peace deal.

But earlier this month the M23 was wracked by infighting and hundreds of M23 rebels loyal to warlord Bosco Ntaganda fled into neighboring Rwanda or surrendered to U.N. peacekeepers after being routed by a rival faction.

Ntaganda, the fugitive Rwandan-born former Congolese general, walked into the U.S. Embassy in Rwanda and was last week transferred to the International Criminal Court, where he faces war crimes charges.

The draft Security Council resolution outlines MONUSCO's role in monitoring a U.N. arms embargo on Congo that would now include using unmanned surveillance drones to "observe and report on flows of military personnel, arms, or related materiel across the eastern border of the DRC." It will be the first time the United Nations has used such equipment.

The U.N. Security Council's Group of Experts, which monitors compliance with sanctions and an arms embargo on Congo, said in a report last year that Rwanda's defence minister was commanding the M23 revolt in Congo and that Rwanda was arming the rebels and supporting them with troops.

Rwanda - now a member of the Security Council - has strongly denied involvement.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Vicki Allen)

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/thomson-reuters/130327/un-aims-approve-congo-search-and-destroy-force