UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recommends in a report reducing the number of peacekeepers in Democratic Republic of the Congo by nearly 10 percent while making it more effective when it comes to protecting civilians from armed groups.
A strategic review of the United Nations Congo mission (MONUSCO), obtained by Reuters on Monday, was submitted to the 15-member Security Council and is dated Dec. 30.
Ban's report acknowledges calls from the Congolese government for reducing the size of MONUSCO, the biggest purely U.N. peacekeeping mission in the world, by more than 50 percent but dismisses those suggestions as impractical. MONUSCO currently has almost 20,000 troops and over 1,000 police.
"It is recommended to reduce MONUSCO's authorized strength by 2,000 troops," Ban's report said. "A reduction beyond the recommended figure would have negative implications for the ability of the Force to implement the mandate."
The report also criticizes Congo's government for not prosecuting senior military officers for human rights violations, including a mass rape in Minova in 2012.
Ban said MONUSCO's mandate, which expires in March, should be extended and the force "transformed to become more efficient and effective" in protecting civilians.
MONUSCO and Congolese troops on Monday launched strikes against remnants of a Burundian rebel group aimed at clearing the way for an offensive against another Rwandan group known as the FDLR, which has been at the heart of years of conflict in Central Africa's Great Lakes region.
While MONUSCO's special intervention brigade, which is mandated to aggressively search out and neutralize armed groups, played a central role in defeating M23 rebels in eastern Congo last year, the report said other rebel groups, including the FDLR, continued to pose a serious threat to civilians.
The report said that both the intervention brigade and the force's regular units were underperforming.
"Many (regular units) were described as not having conducted patrols to the most vulnerable areas on several occasions, while limiting their patrolling activities to daylight hours only," Ban said.
"There were reports of certain contingents being reluctant to engage militarily against armed groups despite orders from the MONUSCO leadership to do so," he added.
Ban recommended extending the intervention brigade's mandate for another year as well as saying it should be "re-energized" to take a lead in planning and executing combat operations, while regular units should participate more in tackling armed groups.
Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Alan Crosby