UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Two Congolese generals who the U.N. says were involved in "massive human rights violations" were given waivers so they could cooperate with that country's U.N. peacekeeping mission as recently as last year, an official said Thursday.
The top U.N. envoy to Congo, Martin Kobler, said the waivers "were given in a too generous way." He spoke to reporters shortly after Congo's foreign minister said the friction with the U.N.'s largest peacekeeping force over the two generals is not his country's fault.
Foreign Minister Raymond Tshibanda told the U.N. Security Council that the time has come for Congo to "assume full responsibility" for its own security, indicating that his country wants the peacekeepers to leave.
Tshibanda addressed the council after weeks of tension in which the U.N. mission backed out of a joint operation against a rebel force in the eastern part of the country. The U.N. says defeating the rebels is key to peace in the often troubled, mineral-rich region, but it objects to the two generals leading the operation.
The Security Council is expected to vote on a resolution next Thursday to renew the mandate of the $1.3 billion peacekeeping force in Congo, which as of the end of February had just over 21,000 military and police personnel.
Congo President Joseph Kabila wants the U.N. force cut by at least 7,000, and Tshibanda said negotiations start Monday on how to reduce the peacekeeping mission. Diplomats say a more modest cut of 2,000 is expected.
Kobler warned that making the peacekeeping mission leave Congo too early would be "disastrous."
The current tensions started with the dispute over the two generals.
The U.N. has said Gen. Bruno Mundevu and Gen. Fall Sikabwe have been heavily involved in "massive human rights violations" that it hasn't publicly detailed. U.N. policy requires that any support to outside security forces will not contribute to serious violations.
But Kobler told reporters that the mission worked with one of the generals in an operation last year and with the other in a 2010 operation.
He said the peacekeeping mission can issue waivers for officers case by case with the expectation that Congo's government will meanwhile take punitive action against them, but that hasn't happened in several cases.
"The waivers, they are an exception, they are not the rule," he said.
He said 118 Congolese officers have been listed by the U.N. as "red" for human rights violations since 2010, while 2,085 officers have been cleared. He said the peacekeeping mission tells the Congo government about "red" officers whenever the affected officers ask for support from the mission.
The mission recently rejected requests for support from seven Congolese officers over human rights concerns, a U.N. report released this month said.
Amid the argument over the two generals, Congo's army on its own in late February launched an offensive against the FDLR rebel group, which includes Hutus who committed the 1994 Rwanda massacres.
Tshibanda said the offensive has had significant progress, with more than 200 rebels arrested, including 91 child soldiers who will be handed over to the U.N. mission.
Kobler told the council in closed-door consultations that other joint projects between Congo and MONUSCO are being affected by the friction.
He told diplomats that operations against another rebel group, the ADF, are increasingly being led by Congo's military without U.N. support. And a force intervention brigade, which has a mandate to take offensive military action against rebel groups, is effectively paralyzed.
In his public remarks to the council, Kobler appealed to Congo to "reset" their relationship with the U.N. mission on the basis of mutual trust.
"We do not want to choose between fighting the FDLR or upholding human rights," Kobler said.