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UN Security Council votes to extend the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo

The Security Council voted unanimously to extend the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo until the end of the year.

The resolution extending the mandate of the force the U.N.'s largest peacekeeping operation deplored outbreaks of violence earlier this year and urged the government and opposition to remain committed to national reconciliation and the democratic political process. It demanded that all militias and armed groups in volatile eastern Congo lay down their arms.

The mineral-rich Central African nation has been wracked by years of war and decades of dictatorship. Last fall's presidential poll marked Congo's first free elections in more than 40 years, but the government led by President Joseph Kabila remains fragile.

The council stressed the Congolese government's primary responsibility for ensuring security and protecting civilians and urged authorities to extend the state's authority throughout the country.

It authorized the U.N. mission to assist the government "in establishing a stable security environment in the country" by helping to protect civilians, report on the movement of armed groups, deter any attempt by armed groups that threaten the political process, and help train police and law enforcement authorities.

The U.N. mission was also authorized to support efforts to strengthen democratic institutions in Congo and promote national reconciliation, political dialogue, and human rights.

The resolution extending the mission until Dec. 31 authorized the U.N. peacekeepers "to use all necessary means within the limits of its capacity" to carry out its mandate.

Last month, the council expressed "grave concern" at the loss of lives, especially civilians, in the March 22-25 clashes between Congolese security forces and security guards of Senator Jean-Pierre Bemba, a former warlord who was runner-up in last fall's presidential election. The clashes spiraled into violent bloodshed that killed dozens.

The resolution adopted Tuesday "exhorts the democratically elected authorities to respect the space and role conferred on the opposition parties by the constitution in order to ensure their effective participation in the national political debate."

Congo's U.N. Ambassador Atoki Ileka said the government had asked Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to come up with a plan for the gradual withdrawal of the mission in Congo.

He said that in the short term the mission should remain at full strength, but in the long run "it's good to have an exit strategy."

The resolution asks the secretary-general "to submit to the council by Nov. 15 a report containing benchmarks and an indicative timetable for the gradual drawdown" of the U.N. force.

France's U.N. Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere said the resolution was important because it adapts the U.N. force to the needs of the country following last fall's elections "and it turns toward the future."

He said the U.N. mission "will go on helping the government to install a secure and stable security environment and ... help to consolidate the democratic institutions of the Congolese state."

The Security Council plans to send a mission to Congo in June to discuss implementation of the resolution, de La Sabliere said.

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