Defence officials to ‘reflect’ on continued Irish participation in Congo mission

Irish contingent withdrawn by Air Corps last week amid increasing violence

Defence officials will use the next few months to “reflect” on Ireland’s future participation in the troubled UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, following the withdrawal of Irish troops from the country last week.

Two Defence Forces members assigned to the Monusco mission were flown out of the country last Friday following a lengthy Air Corps mission amid Government concerns about the worsening security situation there.

The soldiers were due to return to Ireland in the coming weeks as part of a standard troop rotation. However, this was moved forward amid the unrest.

There are no plans to replace them in the near future. A third officer who had been on leave back in Ireland will not return to the mission.

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Thirty-six people, including four UN peacekeepers, were killed at the end of July and UN buildings were set alight during rioting in several cities in the east of the country. Much of the violence was concentrated around the city of Goma, where the Irish contingent were based.

A spokesman for the Department of Defence said on Monday no decision on the Defence Force’s future participation in the mission has been made.

“The Department of Defence and the Defence Forces will use the next few months to reflect on the mission before making any recommendation to the Minister for Defence about Ireland’s continued participation.”

The UN is scheduled to wind down Monusco in 2024 but it is understood this may happen sooner due to increasing tensions between peacekeepers and the government of the DRC.

Ireland’s potential withdrawal from the DRC mission raises the prospect of Ireland soon having no peacekeepers stationed in Africa for the first time in many years.

Last year, the Defence Forces ended its involvement in the Minurso observer mission in Western Sahara while current deployments in Mali are in doubt.

Logistical and security challenges, combined with concerns about human rights violations alleged to have been carried out by the Malian armed forces, are causing significant concern about future Irish participation in the EU’s military training mission in the country. The Department of Defence has said Ireland will continue to participate “at least for the moment”.

Meanwhile, the participation of the Army Ranger Wing in the Minusma (the UN’s multidimensional integrated stabilisation mission in Mali), which is scheduled to come to an end next month, may terminate even earlier due to the withdrawal of the German military last week. The ARW largely relied on German vehicles for transport.

“We are aware of various press reports concerning the participation of the German armed forces in the UN mission in Mali. We understand that Germany has suspended all reconnaissance and transport operations in Mali after the Malian authorities refused access to its airspace,” the department spokesman said.

“The Department of Defence and the Defence Forces are continuing to monitor the situation in Mali closely.”

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime Correspondent of The Irish Times