KINSHASA - The UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo said Wednesday it is preparing a gradual withdrawal from the country despite the continued presence of dozens of armed groups.
Late last month, the UN Security Council renewed the mandate for one more year of its stabilisation mission in DR Congo (MONUSCO) and its intervention brigade charged with "neutralising" foreign and domestic armed groups.
The latest resolution (2147) contains "a new idea ... to prepare for the departure of MONUSCO, to prepare for ... a strategy of withdrawal," mission chief Martin Kobler told a press conference in Kinshasa.
"We will not leave tomorrow. It's a gradual process. But it's clear that we should define the parameters, the criteria that must be achieved before MONUSCO leaves the country," he said.
Since late 2013, most of MONUSCO's 20,000 troops have been based in the east where armed groups have been particularly prevalent.
According to Resolution 2147, UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon must present recommendations for the redeployment of peacekeeping forces by the end of the year.
Despite increasing troop numbers and a broadening mandate since a UN peacekeeping mission was first sent to the country in 1999, the "blue helmets" and the Congolese army have struggled to bring peace to a country the size of western Europe.
MONUSCO had a budget of $1.5 billion (1.1 billion euros) per year, although this has been halved under the latest resolution.
UN missions have long faced criticism for failing to protect civilians in the DR Congo, although perceptions have improved since an offensive by the Congolese army, supported by the United Nations, defeated the M23 rebel group in November.
UN Mission in DR Congo prepares withdrawal