Army takes on group made up of mainly Rwandan Hutu rebels in South Kivu province, sparking fear among civilians.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has demanded the removal of thousands of UN peacekeepers, claiming it is ready to assume the “full responsibility for its security” despite scores of civil society and rights groups urging the UN to extend its mandate in the country.
Foreign Minister Raymond Tshibanda urged UN council members on Thursday to respect the DRC’s “legitimate aspiration” to assume full control of its security, a decade and a half into a UN peacekeeping mission there.
Tshibanda said his country had made “major” political and economic progress and had succeeded in getting the upper hand over Hutu rebels and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, who are accused of fomenting unrest in the east.
The UN mission has been deployed in the DRC since 1999 and comprises some 20,000 troops, essentially based in the country’s east.
In January, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon proposed trimming some 2,000 peacekeepers, while the DRC is seeking a more substantive immediate drawdown of about 6,000 troops.
However, the UN Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO), has cautioned that a gradual pullout of troops is needed to minimise the risk of renewed violence, home in recent decades to some of the bloodiest outbreaks of violence anywhere in the world.
“MONUSCO will not stay in the DRC forever,” Martin Kobler, the head of MONUSCO said.
The DRC will only “achieve stability through the establishment of functional, professional and accountable state institutions and through strengthened democratic practices,” Kobler added.
However, nearly 180 civil society and rights groups have urged strengthened powers for the UN mission in DR Congo to ensure peaceful elections due in November and help end unrest in the country’s volatile east.
The appeal by 179 groups comes amid fears President Joseph Kabila could seek to stay on beyond the end of his mandate by 2016.
Protests over Kabila’s alleged attempt to seek a third term has claimed up to 42 lives this year, according to rights groups.
According to the UN, tens of thousands of people died in February and March 2013, and more than 100,000 fled their homes during clashes between a militia and army forces in the east.