13 April 2007Stressing its commitment to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) during the country’s post-war transition period, the Security Council today extended the mandate of the United Nations peacekeeping mission there for another month. Stressing its commitment to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) during the country’s post-war transition period, the Security Council today extended the mandate of the United Nations peacekeeping mission there for another month. In a resolution adopted unanimously, the Council’s 15 members agreed to extend the current mandate and personnel strength of the UN Organization Mission in the DRC (known as MONUC) until 15 May. The resolution reaffirmed the Council’s support for “the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence” of the DRC, which is trying to rebuild after decades of civil war and misrule. Last month hundreds of people were killed in the capital, Kinshasa, during fighting between Government forces and the guards of the former vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba, who lost the run-off round of landmark presidential elections to Joseph Kabila last year. In the wake of those deadly clashes, the Council called on the DRC’s authorities and political parties to pursue national reconciliation and resolve their differences through dialogue. Also today, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that some 500 people returned to DRC’s Katanga province in the first organized voluntary repatriation from Tanzania there. “This first facilitated return movement is only the start,” said Eusebe Hounsokou, UNHCR’s representative in the DRC, of the UNHCR-chartered ferry which docked after crossing Lake Tanganyika with 494 returning refugees. “In May, we hope to launch the repatriation of 60,000 refugees from Zambia to Katanga,” he added. Most returnees originated from Kalemie town on the shore of Lake Tanganyika and had spent years in asylum in Tanzania after fleeing in the late 1990s from civil war in Katanga – a province in south-eastern DRC known for violent conflict and richness in natural resources. Despite improved security and the end of open conflict in the province in mid-2006, UNHCR remains cautious. Sporadic human rights violations by armed men continue and the unmet needs of former militia members reintegrating into civilian life have the potential for friction. But the agency said refugees have been anxious to return. “Thousands of internally displaced already returned within Katanga during the second half of 2006, turning the page after the horrendous conflicts and human rights violations in the province’s past,” said Mr. Hounsokou. Katanga was the scene of violent conflict between militias and Government forces until mid-2006. Shocking human rights violations were committed against civilians, including looting and burning of entire villages, UNHCR said, estimating that some 170,000 were forced to flee their homes. Open confrontations in the province ended after the leader of the Mai-Mai militia surrendered to MONUC. In a separate development, the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Leandro Despouy, will begin a six-day visit to the African country on Sunday. Mr. Despouy, who has been invited by the Congolese Government, will make recommendations on how to strengthen the independence of the justice system after meeting with the Prime Minister, Government officials, judges, prosecutors, lawyers, UN staff, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and others. He will also look at the level of professional training for judges, prosecutors and lawyers, and the public access to the justice system.