UN to close five peacekeepers' bases in eastern DRC

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Kinshasa - Five UN peacekeepers' bases in the Democratic Republic of Congo are to close at the end of July, the UN mission there announced on Wednesday, describing it as a change in operational style.

But the closures come against the background of cuts to the overall peacekeeping budget pushed through under pressure from the United States.

The bases, all in the restive eastern province of Nord Kivu, on the border with Rwanda and Uganda, will close by July 31, according to a statement from MONUSCO, the peacekeeping mission.

"The new operational device consists in prioritizing flexibility and mobility in military interventions in line with the strategy adopted by the UN department of peace-keeping operations," said the statement.

The new system would include "long-distance patrols, presence demonstrations patrols, air surveillance and rapid deployment in the event of security incident", it added.

DRC's resource-rich east has suffered nearly two decades of brutal conflict.

As neighbouring states backed rebel groups in a civil war against Kinshasa's authority and armed militia forced civilians to flee their homes, part of MONUSCO's mission has been to protect the local population.

UN peacekeepers have been in DRC since 1999 and the operation there is the biggest - and most expensive - of its kind run by the United Nations.

But while the previous mandate authorised a force of 19 815 soldiers, police officers and military observers earlier this year, the UN voted to cut that back to 16 215.

Last month UN diplomats agreed to cut nearly $600m from the peacekeeping budget after weeks of pressure from Washington.

That brought it down from $7.87bn billion to $7.3bn in the coming year.

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