11 APRIL 2006: BURUNDI: SECURITY COUNCIL APPROVES UN TROOP REDEPLOYMENT FROM BURUNDI TO DR CONGO
The Security Council today authorized the temporary redeployment of peacekeepers from the Organisation's operation in Burundi (ONUB) to its mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC) to strengthen security and oversight for the upcoming Congolese elections. By a unanimous resolution, the Council approved the transfer of up to one infantry battalion, a military hospital and 50 military observers to MONUC.
The announcement on 4th April by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan (1) came as very good news for the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic (MONUC), as well as for the people of the DRCongo. MONUC has on several occasions asked the UN Security Council for an additional brigade for the Katanga province, an area not on the political map and where violent conflict has been raging since late 2005 between the Congolese Army, FARDC and the Mai Mai. Situated in the southeast of the DRC, bordering Tanzania on Lake Tanganyika, as well as bordering Zambia and Angola, a humanitarian crisis has emerged largely unnoticed, with some 150,000 people displaced over the past six months. The battalion referred to will be a Pakistani contingent that will be joined by an infantry battalion from Benin - recently trained by the Belgium Defence Force. This redeployment of troops from Burundi to DRCongo will mean that the division deployed in the East of the DRC will now have a brigade in each of the affected areas - Ituri, North and South Kivus and Katanga.
It was anticipated that the withdrawal of the military component of ONUB from Burundi – at the request of the Burundian government – will be completed by December 2006 and that the rest of the mission, the civilian component, will withdraw by mid-2007. According to the outgoing Secretary-General`s Special Representative, Carolyn McAskie, ONUB would have completed 40 percent of its troop withdrawal from the country by the end of April 2006; most police advisers would have left by May (2). The redeployment of military forces to DRC has the implication that the process of withdrawal will be speeded up – a decision that satisfies both DRC and Burundi, but for different reasons. It carries a potential threat to stability during the sensitive post-conflict reconstruction phase in Burundi, as has been learnt from other missions (such as Liberia), where there was a hasty withdrawal and conflict flared up again.
The main challenge arises from the remaining rebel group, the FNL who are not yet part of the government and continue to destabilise the area around Bujumbura. With the withdrawal of ONUB forces, this gives both FNL and the Burundian armed forces freedom of movement. The UN and other human rights organisations have reported numerous human rights abuse by government forces against the population and possible FNL cadres in follow up operations. There is also still a need to monitor the completion of the security sector reform and to address the ongoing issue of the FNL becoming part of the government. The recent withdrawal of the main opposition party FRODEBU, a recent negative development, is a further concern. Burundi still faces many challenges such as limited progress in addressing concerns such as the lack of infrastructure, the need for capacity building of state departments (including the police and military) the return of all refugees from Tanzania, as well as conflicting land claims that could again spark violence.
The UN has promised to leave behind an extensive human right capacity and support the establishment of the judicial mechanism. This, however, does not address the very important issues of security and stability. To ensure a successful post-conflict reconstruction mission, as has been shown in Sierra Leone, stability immediate after elections and during the reconstruction phase is very important. Failing to ensure such stability could be very costly for the people of Burundi.