The Congolese minister of Communications and Media, Mr Lambert Mende Omalanga, on 14 September announced that the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), MONUC, would withdraw from that country by 2011. Though the issue of withdrawal had been raised many times in the past, so definite a statement came as something of a surprise(Sony VGN-FZ11L battery). Not only was it left unclear as to whether this would be a total or merely the beginning of a phased reduction in strength, but the choice of 2011 was strange. Not only will 2011 mark the 50th anniversary of Congolese independence, it should also see the holding of the second set of national multiparty elections(Sony Vaio VGN-FZ31S battery).

The minister mentioned the issue of instability in the eastern DRC and the status of the Forces Armées de la Republic Democratic du Congo (FARDC) and the National Congolese Police (PNC) (Sony Vaio VGN-FZ38M battery). This might imply that the Congolese government believes that by 2011 its own forces would be up to the task of providing nationwide security, a conclusion most informed observers would question, though a redeployment of MONUC forces to the east of the country suggests that the west is now relatively stable(Sony VGN-FZ19VN battery).

In 2008 the Security Council, in terms of Resolution 1856, had asked MONUC for its recommendations on the progressive handover of its tasks to a United Nations country team and bilateral and multilateral partners as far as the western part of the country was concerned to allow MONUC to concentrate on the eastern DRC(Sony Vaio VGN-FZ31Z battery). The subsequent assessment advised that it would take between 6 to 24 months to hand over MONUC?s responsibility to a country team. MONUC also suggested having MONUC police and military response units available if needed(Sony Vaio VGN-FZ31M battery).

The technical assessment mission determined that, although both the eastern and the western parts of the DRC faced problems created by the absence of effective state institutions and authority, the challenges in the east were more acute given the prevailing armed conflict. In the west, however, provincial authorities generally lack effective capacity, and institutions are unstable and under resourced(Sony VGN-FZ11M battery). The Security Council therefore advised that an overarching United Nations strategy should be developed for the DRC, bringing together the focus on peacekeeping tasks in the east and peace consolidation and peace-building in the west(Sony VGN-FZ11Z battery). The strategy would identify coordination mechanisms with authorities and partners and cooperation modalities for the United Nations country team and MONUC to support stabilisation and peace-building in the DRC and elaborate the details and modalities of a handover from MONUC to the country team and other partners to ensure a smooth transition(Sony VGN-FZ220E battery).

It is clear that the principal difficulty lies in assuring stability and governance in the east. The implementation or non-implementation of Security Sector Reform (SSR), Demobilisation, Disarmarment and Reintegration (DDR) of the FARDC and PNC as well as the Demobilisation, Disarmarment, Reintegration, Resettlement and Repatriation of foreign armed groups are the biggest challenges here. The Congolese government has predicated the withdrawal of MONUC in the east upon the successful implementation of the military master plan is short-term vision, which included(Sony VGP-BPS18 battery):

the training and deployment of 12 battalions of a rapid reaction force drawn from elements yet to undergo brassage, as well as from the 18 existing integrated brigades

the establishment of the legal framework necessary for army reform; and

the completion of the transitional disarmament, demobilization and reintegration and army integration programmes(Sony VGN-FZ17 battery).

Unfortunately this short term vision remains just that, and has been delayed because of the ongoing fighting in eastern DRC since late 2007, a lack of coordination between all role players to address the conflict, SSR, DDR, and DDRRR. For example the first rapid reaction battalion trained in 2008 by South Africa at an enormous cost has disappeared from view(Sony VGN-FZ11S battery). The international community is very reluctant to undertake further such training until there is an overarching white paper on defence, a strategy and structure as well as political oversight. MONUC is again seeking to expand its working group on Security Sector Reform to include bilateral partners in addition to the European Union Mission of Assistance for Security Sector Reform and the European Union Police Mission in an effort to enhance information-sharing and move towards more strategic coordination on this critical issue(Sony Vaio VGN-FZ18G battery).

The Congolese government’s claims to possess a reliable military force are given the lie by the FARDC’s treatment of civilians during its eastern operations. Unless this and other issues are addressed very quickly there seems little possibility of a MONUC withdrawal by 2011. Given the slow rate of progress so far, a further 5 to 10 years deployment would not seem unrealistic(Sony VGN-FZ180E battery).

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