– UN wants to use drones in DR Congo conflict (AFP, Nov 23, 2012):
UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations wants to use drones for the first time to monitor fighting in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where Rwanda has been accused of aiding rebels, officials said Friday.
Peacekeeping chiefs have been in contact with the governments of DR Congo and of Rwanda about the sensitive move, which could set a precedent that would worry some United Nations members, diplomats said.
Rwanda itself was one of the first to register concerns. Olivier Nduhungirehe, first counselor for Rwanda’s UN mission, said: “This is controversial, not all countries agree with this.”
UN leaders are looking for ways to strengthen the MONUSCO peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the “M23” guerrillas have taken over much of mineral-rich North Kivu province.
UN experts say Rwanda and Uganda have sent troops and arms across the border. Both strongly deny the allegations.
The UN “is considering a range of ways to strengthen the capabilities of MONUSCO to protect civilians from the threat of armed groups in the vast area of eastern DR Congo,” UN peacekeeping spokesman Kieran Dwyer told AFP.
“Unarmed aerial vehicles, drones for monitoring the movements of armed groups, are one tool we are considering,” he said.
“Of course, we would do this carefully, in full cooperation with the government of the DR Congo, and trialing their most effective uses for information gathering to help implement our mandate to protect civilians.”
“Ultimately, to introduce these, we would need the support of member states to equip the mission,” Dwyer said.
While the drones would not halt the current M23 advance, the UN is also considering bringing in extra troops and redeploying its current force. UN leader Ban Ki-moon is to recommend options to the UN Security Council soon.
MONUSCO currently has about 17,500 troops but could go up to about 19,500 under its Security Council mandate.
Countries such as France have called for MONUSCO’s operational mandate to be toughened so the force can take a tougher line against the rebels.
But UN officials says the peacekeepers, who come from nearly 50 countries, must not replace a national army.
The DR Congo army has virtually collapsed against the advance by M23, who launched their mutiny in April after breaking away from the army and setting up a bastion near the Rwanda border.
UN officials stress that there could be no speedy deployment of drones in DR Congo as MONUSCO would need equipment and training. But it would be a major first in UN peacekeeping operations.
A previous plan to get drones into DR Congo was dropped because of the cost, But the price of the technology has come down with so many countries now using unmanned planes for battlefield reconnaissance and espionage.
“The UN has approached a number of countries, including the United States and France, about providing drones which could clearly play a valuable role monitoring the frontier,” a UN diplomat said, on condition of anonymity.
“Clearly there will be political considerations though,” the diplomat added.
The UN plan is only to have surveillance drones, but the spying capability of the unmanned aerial vehicles worries a lot of countries.
“In Congo, the drones could spot any troops and weapons coming across the border which is good,” said one Security Council diplomat.
“But there are a lot of countries with secrets to hide. If the drones are used in other missions, who will guard the information and guarantee that it does not get passed on,” the diplomat added.