KINSHASA - The first in a fleet of United Nations drones will begin monitoring rebel activity on the borders of the Democratic Republic of Congo next month, a UN commander said mid-this week.
General Carlos Alberto Dos Santos Cruz, commander with the UN peacekeeping brigade in the country, said the unarmed drone would be airborne by the last week of November.
"The initial base to operate the aerial vehicle will be in Goma, and for five months we are going to increase the equipment," he said.
The brigade hopes to have surveillance 24 hours a day by "March or April", he added.
The United Nations said in August it had ordered its first surveillance drones from an Italian company to patrol the volatile eastern region, centred around the flashpoint city of Goma.
The drones' target will be the activities of the M23 movement, founded by former Tutsi rebels who were incorporated into the Congolese army under a 2009 peace deal.
Complaining the deal was never fully implemented, they mutinied in April 2012, turning their guns on their former comrades.
If the trial is successful in the DR Congo, where the drones will also monitor the borders with Rwanda and Uganda, they could also be used in South Sudan, Ivory Coast and in other UN missions.
The announcement came as the chief of the UN's peacekeeping force in the DR Congo, which has the unprecedented right to use deadly force against rebels groups in the country, said he had been made aware of a "disturbing" increase in manpower among the group.
"We have reports of the recruitment by force of young people in Rwanda," Martin Kobler said, potentially destined to join the rebels currently terrorising the Congolese population.
The UN accuses Rwanda of backing the M23 rebels in eastern DR Congo, a charge the country has adamantly denied.
Neighbouring Rwanda was handed American sanctions last week for allegedly backing ethnic-Tutsi Congolese rebels who recruit child soldiers.
Kobler said he also had "irrefutable proof" that M23 rebels were acquiring more military equipment.
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UN drones to monitor M23 rebel activities