FILE PHOTO: United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres attends a news conference at UN-run school in the northern Gaza Strip August 30, 2017.
NEW YPRK – With a dangerous political standoff over elections still unresolved in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres is urging caution over further cuts to the UN peacekeeping mission there, according to a confidential report obtained by AFP on Monday.
Guterres told the Security Council that more cost-cutting could hamstring the 18,000-strong MONUSCO force in its efforts to prevent a collapse of the vast, mineral-rich African country.
In a 27-page strategic review of MONUSCO, the UN's largest and most expensive mission, Guterres said the force was streamlining operations after the peacekeeping budget was cut.
"I am confident that the changes under way in MONUSCO will yield efficiencies. Yet, member-states should exercise caution in making further cuts to the mission's budget that may compromise its ability to deliver on its core priorities," Guterres wrote.
"MONUSCO's ultimate purpose is to prevent the DRC's collapse until it ceases to pose a threat to regional and international stability," he added in the report sent to the council on Friday.
Under pressure from the United States, the Security Council in March voted to cut 2,000 troops from MONUSCO while a $600-million cut to the peacekeeping budget was agreed for this year by all UN member-states.
In his report, Guterres said holding elections would open the door to a further drawdown of forces and eventually the mission's exit after 17 years in the country.
"Yet, unless the Congolese are able to quickly overcome the current political impasse, the mission may never reach that point," he warned. The elections would pave the way to the DRC's first democratic transition.
In his address to the United Nations last month, President Joseph Kabila said he was "most certainly moving towards credible, transparent and peaceful elections" and that a timetable would be announced "soon."
In power since 2001, Kabila officially ended his term in office in December, but he was allowed to remain under the deal reached on 31 December in exchange for guarantees that elections will be held.
There is little prospect that a vote will be held this year however, fuelling concerns that tensions will escalate into large-scale violence.
The council is scheduled to discuss the volatile situation in the DR Congo next week.