By Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The unprecedented deployment of an unarmed surveillance drone by U.N. peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been delayed several months due to procurement procedures, the U.N. peacekeeping chief said on Thursday.
The United Nations has procured an unarmed surveillance drone from Italian defense electronics firm Selex ES, a unit of Finmeccanica, that was due to be deployed in the volatile eastern Congo during August.
"There has been some delay much to my chagrin but these have to do with the rules that member states have made upon us as far as procurement is concerned," peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told a news conference. "Now the goal is definitely for the first days of December."
It will be the first time the United Nations has used such equipment and, if the trial surveillance use by peacekeepers in eastern Congo is successful, officials and diplomats also hope the drones could be used by missions in Ivory Coast and South Sudan.
Thick forests, rugged terrain and the scarcity of roads on Congo's eastern border with Rwanda and Uganda have complicated efforts by the U.N. peacekeeping force, known as MONUSCO, to control the resource-rich area.
Congo and U.N. peacekeepers have been battling an insurgency by M23 rebels for more than a year. U.N. experts have accused Rwanda of sending troops and weapons across the border to support the M23. Rwanda denies the accusation.
Fighting in eastern Congo between rebels and Congolese troops, supported by peacekeepers, flared up again last month.
"It was a bit worrying two weeks ago but I think we are making progress," Ladsous said on Thursday.
"The M23 group has been pushed back towards to the north to such a place that it does not anymore pose the direct threat that it had posed for such a long time either on the city of Goma or on the surrounding IDP (internally displace people) camps or indeed on the positions of MONUSCO," he said.
Ladsous said on Thursday a 3,000-strong U.N. intervention brigade - with a tough new mandate to protect civilians and neutralize armed groups in Congo - was still "working to reach its established levels of staffing and equipment."
Rwanda accused Congo of persistently shelling into its territory during the renewed clashes last month, saying such a "provocation" could no longer be tolerated. But U.N. officials told the U.N. Security Council that peacekeepers had seen only M23 rebels shelling into Rwanda.
Regional presidents last week called on Kinshasa and the rebels to restart negotiations after the army, backed by U.N. troops, bolstered the government's position with rare military successes in recent fighting.
The M23 said on Sunday it was ready to return to peace talks and would not make integration into the national army, which has not proved successful in the past, part of the deal.
U.N. special envoy to the Great Lakes region, Mary Robinson, told the U.N. Security Council on Thursday during a closed door briefing that the U.N. position was that there should be no amnesty or integration into the Congolese army for M23 members who have violated human rights, diplomats said.
Robinson also called on the council to urge the presidents of Congo, Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi to meet on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly later this month to build regional cooperation.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Bill Trott)