Annan pushes UN for $1bn expansion of Congo force

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The Independent Online

The smouldering, bloody conflict that is tearing the heart of Africa apart, leaving an almost-unreported three million dead, is finally to claim the attention of the world.

The smouldering, bloody conflict that is tearing the heart of Africa apart, leaving an almost-unreported three million dead, is finally to claim the attention of the world.

Discussions are to be held in the UN Security Council today on proposals for the UN mission in Democratic Republic of Congo to be boosted to 24,000 soldiers, creating the biggest peace-keeping operation in the world. If approved, it would cost $1bn (£560m).

The negotiations will focus on a French-drafted resolution expanding the mission from the existing 10,800 troops to curb the ethnic massacres breaking out in the eastern region. The proposal by the UN secretary general Kofi Annan for the urgent increase was prompted by the fall of the town of Bukavu to rebels last June, despite the presence of hundreds of UN soldiers.

The violent military confrontation came close to reigniting the five-year war in DR Congo and triggered accusations that Rwanda was behind the uprising.

The UN force was brought in under the fragile peace process which created a transitional power-sharing government in Kinshasa. But in August, 152 ethnic Tutsi Congolese refugees were massacred at a refugee camp in Gatumba, Burundi. .

Preliminary findings of a UN investigation presented to the security council last Friday claim the massacre was carefully planned and committed by the Burundian rebel group, the Forces for National Liberation (FNL). The UN said the attackers worked with elements of Mai-Mai fighters and Rwandan Hutu rebels, both based in eastern Congo.

There had been fears that Rwanda might track the perpetrators across the border in DR Congo, amid reports that the Interahamwe had helped in the killings. Human Rights Watch also concluded that "the details of the attack show that the FNL was the chief force in the slaughter at Gatumba".

The organisation, which interviewed massacre survivors, called on the Burundi government to ensure a thorough investigation, and explain why the Burundian military did not come to the aid of the refugees.

It also urged the Burundian government, which has issued arrest warrants for two FNL leaders, to arrest and prosecute those guilty of the massacre.

Britain considers a substantial and urgent increase in the numbers of the UN mission in eastern Congo would highlight support for the peace process, although Mr Annan is unlikely to win approval for the requested 23,900 personnel spread throughout DR Congo.

British officials mention the figure of 5,000 to 6,000 extra UN troops for the eastern region immediately. The security council would return to Mr Annan's additional requests later.

Officials say a spate of massacres and renewed unrest since April does not appear to be a planned strategy with the backing of regional patrons, but rather the result of factional fighting between local leaders.

But it is unclear how other members of the UN Security Council react to a demand for more troops when so many are already committed to Iraq.

The humanitarian disaster in Sudan is affecting troop availability, with African soldiers being dispatched to protect ceasefire monitors in Darfur.

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