Democratic Republic of Congo on Wednesday made a new call for UN peacekeepers to withdraw, despite warnings from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that armed groups remain a significant threat there.
DR Congo's international cooperation minister Raymond Tshibanda told the UN Security Council that his government want an "orderly, progressive withdrawal" of UN troops from the giant central African country, where millions are said to have died in conflict in the past two decades.
The resource-rich country is to hold a key presidential election in November, amid fears of unrest.
Tshibanda told a Security Council debate that DR Congo and UN troops were now tackling "the last pockets of resistance from the remaining armed elements" and these are "in a few isolated zones."
"Add to this the normalization of relations with neighboring countries, we can legitimately say that we are out of the phase of reestablishing and maintaining peace," he said.
The minister said the UN mission in DR Congo, MONUSCO, should now concentrate on consolidating peace and reinforcing democracy.
MONUSCO currently has about 20,000 troops and police in the country making it one of the UN's biggest peacekeeping operations.
"The time has come to broach together a phase of transition which will lead to the restructuring of MONUSCO and its mandate with the view to an orderly, progressive withdrawal, without delays, of its military component," he said.
Tshibanda added that President Joseph Kabila's government wants to do nothing to "undermine" the improved security climate.
"We must now ensure that the mandate is adapted to meet the new needs present on the ground," he told the 15-nation council.
"We only ask that we, as responsible adults, be able to shoulder the prerogatives that are part of our regained sovereignty."
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon did not comment on the withdrawal of MONUSCO forces in his speech to the debate.
But he said that despite military efforts, "foreign and Congolese armed groups continue to pose significant threats. The humanitarian situation remains serious with 1.7 million displaced."
He added that "murders, sexual violence and the looting and burning of villages continue to have large-scale humanitarian consequences."
Ban said that the November 28 presidential and legislative elections "must be timely, transparent, credible, peaceful and secure."
"We must do our utmost to ensure that violence does not break out before, during or after the elections. We have invested much and there is much to lose," he told the Security Council.
The Council said in a statement that security has improved in DR Congo but highlighted the threat from armed groups in the eastern provinces of Nord and Sud Kivu.
It reaffirmed "deep concern about the persistent high levels of violence, especially sexual violence and human rights abuses against civilians."
A recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health estimates that there are more than 1,100 rapes each day in DR Congo.© ANP/AFP