The UN peacekeeping department has asked the Security Council to back the use of surveillance drones for the first time in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The UN wants to use the drones to monitor the vast eastern DRC border, where Rwanda has been accused of helping rebels fighting the government. Rwanda denies the charge.
The introduction of drones would be a major shift in UN peacekeeping operations, but Rwanda opposes their use in the DRC and other countries are also suspicious.
Herve Ladsous, the UN peacekeeping chief, said he had asked the Security Council for the means to strengthen its DRC operation.
“So more helicopters, perhaps some with night vision, river capacities and then this question of aerial surveillance equipment – drones,” he told the AFP news agency. “I explained to the Security Council how necessary we think this is.”
Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, is expected to reinforce the case for drones in a report he is preparing on strengthening the UN mission in DRC.
The calls for action came after M23 rebels swept aside government forces and UN peacekeepers as they took the key provincial capital of Goma in November.
‘It is not about Star Wars’
DRC is already the UN’s biggest peacekeeping mission, with more than 17,000 troops. But the forces are spread thin in the huge country and the UN is under orders to cut costs.
Western countries have backed the UN plan. “The UN needs additional modern resources – in particular drones – to be better informed, more reactive,” France’s UN mission said in a Twitter statement.
The Congo government is in favour of the move, but Rwanda, which is now one of the African members of the 15-nation Security Council, is opposed to it.
UN experts say that Rwanda and Uganda have given military backing to the M23 rebels.
“We as Rwanda bordering on the Congo, we are maybe not in a comfortable position to talk about it because people may perceive it otherwise,” said Eugene Richard Gasana, Rwanda’s UN ambassador.
“But member states have legitimate questions on legal issues, financial issues on implementation of this.”
“It might have a precedence on other countries. We owe them a kind of explanation.
“It is about human beings, it is not about Star Wars. We need this new technology, but at which cost.”
UN officials say that drones could also be valuable in South Sudan and Sudan, huge countries where peacekeeping missions are spread thin.
But the UN has stressed that it would not use drones in any mission without the permission of the country involved.
“Ultimately, to introduce these, we would need the support of member states to equip the mission,” UN peacekeeping spokesman Kieran Dwyer said recently.
The M23 rebels declared a unilateral ceasefire on Tuesday ahead of a second round of peace talks with the government, boosting hopes for a negotiated end to their nine-month-old revolt.
The announcement marked a relaxation of the rebels’ demand last week that the DRC government also agree to a truce before troubled negotiations resume.
“We’ve been for peace … Today we’re declaring that we’re in a ceasefire,” Francois Rucogoza, the rebels’ executive
secretary told journalists in the Ugandan capital Kampala.
“Even if the government refuses to sign a ceasefire agreement we’ll continue with the negotiations.”