As the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) transforms into a stabilization force, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has stressed that the world body`s main priority of protecting civilians will continue.
Last month, the Security Council passed a resolution authorizing the withdrawal of up to 2,000 UN military personnel " from an existing strength of 19,815 " by today from areas where security has improved enough to allow their removal.
The UN mission, currently known as MONUC, will be known starting tomorrow as the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) and will stay in the country only until 30 June next year.
Despite its new name, this is not a new mission, " but rather a reflection of the Council`s recognition of the new phase which the DRC has entered, Mr. Ban told the UN-sponsored Radio Okapi station yesterday in the capital, Kinshasa.
Like previous resolutions, the latest one stresses the need to give priority to civilian protection and use all means to fulfil this mandate of protection, " he noted.
This also encompasses, he said, ensuring the safety of humanitarian workers, human rights defenders and UN personnel, facilities, installations and equipment.
The Secretary-General pointed to the continued activity of rebels, such as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and notorious Ugandan group known as the Lord`s Resistance Army (LRA), which are still causing much suffering " in the country`s volatile east.
Like MONUC, MONUSCO will be authorized to support the Congolese army`s operations against such armed groups, provided that it complies with international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law, among others.
Mr. Ban is scheduled to meet with the mission`s senior management and unveil a MONUSCO plaque.
Much as been accomplished since the arrival of MONUC in 1999, including the pacification of much of the territory, the holding of democratic elections [and] the creation of State institutions, " Mr. Ban said.
The country, he added, has entered now crossed into a new chapter marked by consolidation and stabilization.
The Secretary-General`s visit to the DRC coincides with the country`s commemoration of half a century of independence from Belgium.
This celebration is a historic moment for the Congolese, " Mr. Ban said, voicing the UN`s continued commitment to work with the nation toward its future.
The country and the world body, he pointed out, share a long history. " He acknowledged that the UN`s efforts in the DRC have not been without difficulty, " but expressed pride that the UN`s tens of thousands of peacekeepers and staff have helped the country through tough times.
The UN`s involvement in the DRC began shortly after it gained its independence in 1960, with the world body sending in peacekeeping troops after a Belgian military intervention. At its peak strength, the mission, which drew to a close in 1964, totalled nearly 20,000 officers.
The DRC has an important role to play in Africa and the world, a role that includes both the issue of sustainable economic development as climate change or biodiversity protection, " he emphasized.
During talks today with President Joseph Kabila, the Secretary-General said that the UN will respect the country`s wishes and priorities.
He also told the DRC leader that the world body will work closely with the country to enhance stabilization, protect civilians, promote human rights, consolidate the rule of law, and fight impunity and sexual violence against women and girls.
Mr. Ban also met with Rwandan President Paul Kagame today, thanking him for agreeing to serve as co-chair of the High-Level Advocacy Group on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the eight anti-poverty targets with a 2015 deadline.
During their conversation, Mr. Ban underscored that Rwanda`s continued collaboration towards stabilizing the region would be essential, welcoming the warming of relations between Rwanda and the DRC.
The Secretary-General is also slated to meet with King Albert II of Belgium later today.
This trip is Mr. Ban`s third to Africa over the past month. While in the DRC, he will hold talks with Mr. Kabila and other officials, before travelling to Gabon tomorrow. In his other two visits to the continent, he has visited Malawi, Uganda, South Africa, Burundi, Cameroon, Benin and Sierra Leone.