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Jan 8, 2013 | Africa

DRC neutral force may be merged with UN mission: AU

Ramtane Lamamra, pictured on May 26, 2011.  By Simon Maina (AFP/File)
Ramtane Lamamra, pictured on May 26, 2011. By Simon Maina (AFP/File)

ADDIS ABABA (AFP) - Ministers from African Great Lake states lean toward having the UN's peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo's troubled east merge with a future neutral force there, an African Union official said Tuesday.

"The general direction of discussions is towards a formula, a creative formula, that would amalgamate" the MONUSCO mission with the international neutral force, said Ramtane Lamamra, the AU's peace and security commissioner.

But he did not specify how the 4,000-man force might collaborate with the 19,000 UN soldiers already deployed in the country, the bulk of them in the east.

Lamamra spoke after a meeting of ministers from the 11-member International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, who for months have been trying to get the neutral force off the ground to rein in the rebels in the east.

In late November, the M23 rebels seized the key town of Goma in the mineral rich province of North Kivu, raising fears of a widespread conflict.

Talks began last month between the rebels, who launched their offensive in May, and the government but have made little progress to date.

Lamamra said that the technical details of the force are still being hammered out but added the plan could be sent to the UN for consideration within a week.

"We were informed that perhaps the commanding staff, the commanding officers, would be deployed in the next few weeks," he added in Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

Tanzania has pledged troops, while other members of the Southern African Development Community have also said they were willing to contribute.

The long running conflict in the east of the country has forced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes.

Early this month, the UN Security Council slapped an arms embargo on M23 rebels and imposed a travel ban and asset freeze on two other senior figures in the group.

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