UN set to authorize a new brigade to take military action against rebels in eastern Congo

The U.N. Security Council was set Thursday to authorize a new "intervention brigade" for Congo with an unprecedented mandate to take military action against rebel groups in order to help bring peace to the country's conflict-wracked east.

U.N. diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because negotiations on the brigade have been private, said they expect the council to unanimously approve the draft resolution.

Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, the current council president, told a news conference that "we shall be adopting a long awaited resolution" that will reconfigure the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo, "recognizing the necessity of decisively countering the destructive" violence that has left eastern Congo in turmoil since the 1994 Rwanda genocide.

The intervention brigade would be unprecedented in U.N. peacekeeping because of its offensive mandate. But the draft resolution states clearly that it would be established for one year "on an exceptional basis and without creating a precedent" to the principles of U.N. peacekeeping.

The French-drafted resolution would give the brigade a mandate to carry out offensive operations alone or with Congolese army troops to neutralize and disarm armed groups "in a robust, highly mobile and versatile manner" to ensure that they can't seriously threaten government authority or the security of civilians.

The brigade would be part of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo, known as MONUSCO, within its troop ceiling of 19,815. The United Nations currently has more than 17,700 U.N. peacekeepers and more than 1,400 international police in Congo.

Churkin said "it is of the utmost importance that the new resolution confirms the basic principles of U.N. peacekeeping, and the mandate of the brigade and the military component directly under it are divided."

The proposed resolution would extend MONUSCO's mandate until March 31, 2014. The "intervention brigade" headquarters would be in the key eastern city of Goma. U.N. officials say it will probably include between 2,000 and 3,000 troops.

Mineral-rich eastern Congo has been engulfed in fighting since the 1994 Rwanda genocide, in which at least 500,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered by Hutu militias before a Tutsi-led rebel army took power in Rwanda. More than 1 million Rwandan Hutus fled across the border into Congo, and Rwanda has invaded Congo several times to take action against Hutu militias there.

The exploitation of Congo's mineral resources continues to exacerbate conflict and instability on the ground.

In late February, 11 central Africa leaders and the United Nations signed an agreement to try to establish peace in eastern Congo.

The draft resolution demands that Congo and the 10 other African nations implement the peace accord "in good faith" and expresses the council's intention "to take appropriate measures as necessary" against any party that doesn't comply with its commitments.

Under the peace deal, the signatories pledged not to interfere in the internal affairs of neighboring countries or provide any support to armed groups. The Congolese government pledged to reform its army and police, consolidate its authority in the volatile east and promote reconciliation, tolerance and democratization.

The signatories include Rwanda and Uganda, which were accused in a U.N. report last year of helping aid the M23 rebel group which swept through eastern Congo in 2012 and captured Goma in November but pulled out under international pressure. Both countries denied the allegations.

U.N. peacekeepers were unable to protect civilians from the M23 rebels, whose movement began in April 2012 when hundreds of troops defected from the Congolese armed forces.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a report in February recommending an "intervention brigade" that the M23 rebellion underscored the continuing fragility of the situation in eastern Congo. But he said he is convinced the peace accord offers an opportunity for key nations to collectively address the underlying causes of the conflict in the east and the surrounding Great Lakes region and end the recurring violence.

The draft resolution strongly condemns the continued presence of the M23 in the immediate vicinity of Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, and its attempts to establish "an illegitimate parallel administration in North Kivu."

It demands that the M23 and other armed groups, including those seeking the "liberation" of Rwanda and Uganda, immediately halt all violence and "permanently disband and lay down their arms." It also strongly condemns their continuing human rights abuses including summary executions, sexual and gender-based violence and large-scale recruitment and use of children.

In addition to disbanding armed groups, the draft resolution says the "intervention brigade" would monitor an arms embargo along with a panel of U.N. experts and observe and report on flows of military personnel, weapons and equipment across the border of eastern Congo including by "surveillance capabilities provided by unmanned aerial systems."

In January, the Security Council gave approval for deployment of unarmed surveillance drones for eastern Congo that would provide intelligence for the peace enforcement brigade as well as the larger U.N. peacekeeping force. U.N. officials expect them to be deployed at the beginning of the summer.