UN wants drones over Congo to keep the peace

African mission plea for more firepower after being humiliated by rebel advance in DRC

The United Nations is considering using unmanned drones in its peacekeeping operations for the first time, as it seeks to strengthen its forces in eastern Congo.

The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, is pushing for the deployment of drones in a diplomatic battle in New York that could have far-reaching implications for the future of international peacekeeping.

The proposal to use the unarmed intelligence-gathering drones has the backing of council members the US, UK and France but faces opposition from China and Russia. Rwanda, which holds one of the council's rotating seats, and is accused of meddling in its larger neighbour, is also determined to block the move.

Monusco, the UN's mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the largest of its kind, was humiliated last year after first vowing to prevent armed rebels from taking the regional capital before standing aside and allowing them to march into Goma.

The M23 rebels routed the Congolese national army, despite its support from UN forces. Rwanda allegedly lent direct military support to the rebel offensive, according to a report by a UN group of experts.

Congo analyst Jason Stearns said drones could be a "technical fix" to one of the key problems: "monitoring meddling by neighbouring countries and gathering information about security developments in the vast interior of the country."

The UN's peacekeeping head, Herve Ladsous, has been pushing for the organisation's creaking and poorly supplied missions to be modernised and has threatened to name and shame under-performing troop contingents. This week, he told the Security Council that the Congo mission needed more helicopters, night-vision equipment, river units and drones.

Rwanda has opposed the move, saying it does not want Africa to become a laboratory for foreign intelligence devices. Olivier Nduhungirehe, a Rwandan diplomat at the UN, said his country would oppose the use of drones, calling for further assessment of how they would be used: "We express reservations about the introduction of UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) to peacekeeping operations when the issues that go along with it are still being discussed," he told the state-owned media in Rwanda.

The government in Kigali has repeatedly denied allegations that it commands the M23 rebels and rejected evidence from UN experts. The use of UAVs in Congo's remote border areas would settle the argument and make it impossible for large-scale supply operations to be kept secret.

The UN, which has 17,000 troops and 1,400 police deployed in sub-Saharan Africa's largest country at an annual cost of $1.5bn, has been considering drones since 2009, when it asked the US for the technology and was refused. The cost of UAVs has fallen dramatically in the past five years and the Pentagon has lost its monopoly on the technology with countries from Belgium to Pakistan manufacturing them.

The first UN drone deployment faces significant opposition from veto-wielding China and Russia who have concerns over the security of the intelligence gathered.

Experts have warned that while drones might be useful they would not be a panacea for Monusco or similar operations. "They could distract from the real issues at stake: the dereliction of the Congolese state, foreign military meddling, and the increased use of armed groups by all actors to bolster their power," said Mr Stearns.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sheridan Maine: Accounts Assistant

£25,000 - £30,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you looking for a fantastic opportunity...

Neil Pavier: Commercial Analyst

£50,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you a professionally qualified commercial ...

Loren Hughes: Financial Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Loren Hughes: Are you looking for a new opportunity that wi...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Engineer - Professional Services Firm - Oxford

£21000 - £24000 per annum + 21 days holidays: Ashdown Group: Technical Support...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor