New DR Congo army to take over from MONUC

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The departure at the end of the month of the first group of peacekeepers from the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) was announced Wednesday. Their absence is expected to place greater responsibility on a Congolese army known for its structural difficulties. Early June, the country’s Senate passed a law to clarify the military’s status: A set of innovative laws that emphasise the training of officers, non-commissioned officers and soldiers.

Alain Likota, spokesman for the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC) Wednesday said that 230 Senegalese peacekeepers had left or were leaving the country on Wednesday. MONUC, which is the largest UN peacekeeping operation, has bowed to the demands of Congolese President Joseph Kabila to have some 2,000 peacekeepers withdrawn before June 30, the 50th anniversary of independence of Congo – Kinshasa.

The UN mission will continue its activities until mid-2011 with some 21,000 men — military, police and observers, before their final departure. The Secretary General of the United Nations for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes, has nevertheless expressed his concerns over the action. According to him the violence could spiral out of control should all the peacekeepers leave.

A new status for the Congolese army

Meanwhile, the Congolese authorities have moved to ensure that the MONUC withdrawal does not create a vacuum. Between May-June, the Senate passed a law on the status of the military. Of the 326 articles related to the subject matter (most of them innovations), 172 of them were adopted on May 31 while the remaining 154 were adopted on the 1st of June. The new law demands the signing of a 7 year renewable contract for soldiers. They must be both unmarried and without children.

“We want these soldiers serve the nation fully and during this period we do not want them to have other obligations. That is why we wanted them to be unmarried,” said Raymond Omba, president of the Defence and Security Committee at the Congolese Senate. These young soldiers are expected to have at least a four year high school certificate. After their 14 years of service to the country, the soldiers can be reinserted into other sectors of civil society.

As for the officers, the new status gives them the opportunity to pursue a career in the Army until retirement. Senator Omba also revealed that they had made room for lots of guarantees, including “wages indexed to the cost of living (…) The soldiers will also benefit from car loans, housing loans (…) All this is to ensure an interesting career”.

An army with diverse generals from various armed groups

DRC Armed Forces (FARDC) are now made up of former military and armed groups. Among them are a multitude of generals, most of whom have not undergone adequate training. But will it be possible to convince all those generals to consider being trained?

According to Senator Djole Jacques, Member of the Defence and Security Committee, being part of a “modern army is not about how to shoot arrows (…) or serving in ones hills or forest! When one decides to serve as a general in a Republican army, one must accept to go through training,” while insisting that training for officers is more of a prerequisite than an obligation.

However, the new status will only be in force after its promulgation by the Head of State.

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