August 12, 2005

Cash crunch could force UN Congo mission cutbacks

By Irwin Arieff

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. peacekeeping mission in
Congo may have to cut back on military operations or election
preparations unless it gets a quick cash infusion, U.N.
officials said on Friday.

The U.N. operation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the
world body's biggest peacekeeping mission, is sounding out the
15-nation U.N. Security Council on whether it can get around
the cash crunch by tapping $103 million earmarked in the budget
for election support but not yet approved for spending.

A draft resolution put forward by France would clear the
way for the money to be spent.

But because the resolution also authorizes an additional
841 police officers for the Congo mission, it must be cleared
with the U.S. Congress before the council can vote on it -- a
procedure that normally would delay a vote until September 6 at
the earliest, council members said.

U.S. lawmakers have an advance say over all U.N. troop
commitments because the United States is the United Nations'
biggest dues payer and is assessed more than a quarter of the
cost of U.N. peacekeeping.

Council diplomats and U.N. peacekeeping officials said they
were now working on a way around the impasse so that the funds
could be unblocked faster.

"It's pretty urgent. The 6th of September, under the
circumstances, is going to be too late," said one council
diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because the talks
aimed at resolving the matter are taking place in private.

The Congo mission's budget was nearly $1 billion for the
fiscal year ending June 30, making up nearly a quarter of the
total U.N. peacekeeping budget for the period.

The mission is helping implement a 2003 peace agreement
ending a five-year civil war in Congo that has killed an
estimated 4 million people and is still simmering in the
country's mineral-rich east.

Under the peace deal, a transitional government was
installed to govern until elections could be held.

The elections, which would be the first in the country in
45 years, have not yet been scheduled but must take place by
June 30, 2006, at the latest.

After many delays, voter registration has finally begun.

But extending the registration drive depends on the U.N.
mission delivering election materials to 166 locations in a
country roughly the size of Western Europe.

The mission plans to lease equipment to accomplish this.
But because it cannot yet draw down the needed funds, it has
begun reassigning helicopters normally assigned to combat
operations to get the job off the ground, officials said.