UN peacekeepers close base in preparation to leave DR Congo

The UN mission has been told to leave due to inefficiency in protecting civilians from armed conflict.

People protest against Western partners outside the MONUSCO mission's headquarters in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo [File: Justin Makangara/Reuters]

The United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which has helped in the fight against rebels for more than two decades, has closed one of its key bases as it prepares to leave the Central African nation this year at the request of the government.

The mission, also known as MONUSCO, closed a major base near the city of Bukavu in a ceremony on Thursday attended by Bintou Keita, the head of MONUSCO, along with DRC military and government officials.

The base, along with others slated to close by the end of the year, will be handed over to the military.

UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told a briefing at the organisation’s headquarters in New York on Thursday that peacekeepers from Pakistan, who constituted the bulk of the forces deployed in South Kivu province, are leaving after more than 20 years of service.

“Since 2003, when they were first deployed, more than 100,000 peacekeepers from Pakistan have served in South Kivu, including 31 Pakistani soldiers who died in the line of duty, in the service of the United Nations and the people of the Congo,” he said.

The departure comes after the Congolese government, which was re-elected in a disputed vote at the end of December, said the increasingly unpopular mission has failed to protect civilians from armed groups.

The Rwandan-backed M23 rebels and numerous other armed groups are active in restive eastern areas of the country, including North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri provinces, where millions of civilians face violence and internal displacement.

About 2,000 UN soldiers were slated to leave South Kivu by the end of April, taking the strength of MONUSCO down to 11,500 peacekeepers, according to the government.

Fourteen UN bases are expected to be taken over by DRC security forces, followed by a phased departure of UN forces from North Kivu and Ituri.

MONUSCO has been active in the DRC for more than 13 years, having taken over from an earlier UN operation in 2010.

The government has also directed an African regional force, deployed last year to help end the fighting, to leave the country for similar reasons as the UN peacekeeping mission.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies