UNITED NATIONS -- The Security Council voted unanimously Monday to expand the U.N. peacekeeping force in Congo, strengthen its mandate and impose an arms embargo on armed groups in eastern Congo.
The resolution will increase the U.N. peacekeeping force from 8,700 to 10,800 troops, a decision hailed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan. He said the additional troops and strong mandate are needed "to help the Congolese to achieve a sustainable peace leading up to a democratically elected government."
The additional troops are expected to replace an emergency French-led international force sent to Bunia in northeastern Congo last month to help stem fighting that killed hundreds of people. The international force, expected to reach 1,500 troops, is to leave by Sept. 1.
Under the previous mandate, U.N. troops were only allowed to fire in self-defense, although the international force was authorized to shoot to kill.
The new resolution authorizes the U.N. force to protect U.N. personnel and facilities, civilians and humanitarian workers "under imminent threat of physical violence" and to help improve security conditions so humanitarian aid can be provided.
It did not give a time frame for the expansion.
It authorizes the U.N. force "to use all necessary means" to fulfill its mandate in Bunia and the surrounding Ituri district and in North and South Kivu in eastern Congo, which also have been the scene of continuing violence.
In the past, the Security Council has called on neighboring countries and other nations to stop supplying the weapons that have fueled the five-year conflict.
On Monday, the council went a step further, banning the sale or transfer of arms and military equipment "to all foreign and Congolese armed groups and militias operating in the territory of North and South Kivu and of Ituri" and to all groups that are not party to the peace agreement in Congo.
The arms embargo will last for one year and will be renewed by the Security Council "if no significant progress has been made in the peace process."
Conflict erupted in Congo in August 1998, when Rwanda and Uganda sent troops into the country to back rebels seeking to oust then-President Laurent Kabila. Since a 1999 cease-fire, foreign troops have withdrawn and most fighting has stopped, except in the resource-rich east.
Congo's president signed a decree June 30 setting up a power-sharing administration of rebels and the current government, meant to lead the country to peace.