The United Nations mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo, one of the biggest U.N. peacekeeping operations, will be scaled back because of budget pressure.
The mission, known as MONUSCO, will close down representations or offices in Matadi, Mbandaka, Bandundu and Mbuji-Mayi in eastern DRC; in Lubumbashi and Kamina in the southeast; and in Dungu, in the northeast.
These will be closed by June 30, although the military component of the mission will be unchanged, MONUSCO chief Leila Zerrougui said.
MONUSCO has proposed reducing expenditures for the July 1, 2019-June 30, 2020 budgetary year by $100 million (€89 million), just under 10% of the current budget.
Zerrougui said MONUSCO would maintain its presence in the conflict-torn east, where armed groups control swathes of territory, and in the Kasai region in the center, where there has been fierce fighting between government forces and the Kamwina Nsapu militia.
“The armed groups … are in Ituri, they are in Kivu, they are in Tanganyika, they are in the two Kasai [provinces],” she said at a press conference on Monday, April 22.
MONUSCO – the U.N. Organization Stabilisation Mission in the DR Congo – took over from a U.N. peace operation called MONUC that was established in 1999 as the vast country grappled with a bloody regional war.
According to the the U.N. Peacekeeping website, as of March, MONUSCO had more than 15,000 military personnel, nearly 1,400 police and 257 staff officers, as well as 241 experts on mission, 2,970 civilians and 367 volunteers,
Zerrougui said that the U.N. radio station Okapi – one of the most important sources of news in the DRC – would continue to broadcast.
The U.N. Security Council last month approved a nine-month extension to MONUSCO’s mandate.
But a senior U.N. peacekeeping official said they were “looking at a gradual process of adjusting” MONUSCO and working toward a “gradual exit strategy.”
Last year, in the midst of the tense campaigning for the DRC presidential elections, outgoing head of state Joseph Kabila had demanded MONUSCO leave the country in 2020, but new President Felix Tshisekedi has said the force should be “better armed” and has offered to cooperate with the United Nations on next steps.
DR Congo’s own armed forces are beset by many problems, ranging from poor training and motivation to corruption and antiquated equipment.
Discussions on MONUSCO’s future come as the United States is seeking to reduce its share of the U.N. budget for peace operations.
The U.S. is the top financial contributor to the U.N.’s $6.7 billion peacekeeping budget, providing 28.5% of funds. China contributes 10.3%, Japan 9.7%, Germany and France 6.3% each, and the United Kingdom 5.8%.
More than 100,000 peacekeepers are deployed in 14 missions worldwide, including major operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali and South Sudan that each cost more than $1 billion annually to run.
U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has taken a harder line on U.N. funding, cutting contributions and pushing for cost-saving reforms. It is also seeking to streamline peacekeeping operations to reduce costs and make them more effective.
National Security Advisor John Bolton in December said the U.S. will seek to wind down long-running U.N. peacekeeping missions that do not bring long-term peace.
The U.S. has also opposed new U.N. funding for peacekeeping initiatives led by African organizations.
An ambitious push by African countries to secure U.N. financing for future African Union-led peace missions faced strong resistance from the United States last November.
In February, leaders of the G5 Sahel group of African nations again called for regular U.N. funding and other aid to help tackle cross-border jihadist insurgency in the region.
With reporting from AFP