UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution Wednesday calling for presidential and legislative elections in Congo to be held on schedule in November and rejecting the government's demand to cut the 20,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force in the country in half by the end of the year.
Congo's U.N. Ambassador Ignace Gata Mavita expressed regret that the council kept the peacekeeping mission's ceiling at its current level and didn't even agree to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's recommendation of a 1,700-member reduction.
The council took note of Ban's recommendation but said any change in the U.N. force, known as MONUSCO, should be determined in consultation with the Congolese government "on the basis of the evolution of the situation on the ground," a reduction in violence against civilians, and establishing "accountable state institutions" including for security and justice.
The resolution extending the mandate of the U.N. mission until March 31, 2017 was adopted at a time of rising tension over November's scheduled elections. Congo's President Joseph Kabila is meant to leave office in December but the opposition fears he will postpone the election timeline to stay in power.
France's U.N. Ambassador Francois Delattre said the resolution refocuses and strengthens MONUSCO's mandate on the two major challenges facing Congo today: "the protection of civilians in the fight against armed groups and support in the holding of credible, peaceful and democratic elections."
He said the Security Council decided to maintain the size of the U.N. force "because the challenges facing the country remain very important and it is the responsibility of the international community, through the presence of the MONUSCO peacekeepers, to accompany this period."
Congo's Gata Mavita said the government thinks "this stance shows a lack of flexibility that could undermine the climate of work on the ground."
The Security Council reaffirmed that the protection of civilians, including against threats and violence by armed groups and sexual violence, must be given top priority by MONUSCO.
It also urged the government and all parties "to ensure an environment conducive to a free, fair, credible, inclusive, transparent, peaceful and timely electoral process." And it called for publication of a revised electoral calendar without delay and updating of the electoral register "to ensure the successful and timely holding of elections."
The council called for a "credible dialogue" to ensure peaceful elections and urged all parties to cooperate with the African Union which is undertaking consultations to get the parties together. Gata Mavita blamed some of the opposition for the delay in starting these talks on the electoral progress.