Rwanda is opposing United Nations plans to use surveillance drones in eastern Congo until there is a full assessment of their use, saying it does not want Africa to become a laboratory for foreign intelligence devices.
According to reports, UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told the Security Council that the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo planned to deploy three unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the country’s conflict-torn eastern provinces.
The mission, known as MONUSCO, has wanted surveillence drones for eastern Congo since 2008.
A request had previously been made by the former head of the UN peacekeeping force for helicopters, drones and other items to improve real-time intelligence gathering.
While the request was never met, the idea generated new interest last year after M23 rebels began taking over large swathes of eastern Congo.
Aided by UN peacekeepers, Congolese troops have been battling the M23, who UN experts and Congolese officials say are backed by Rwanda and Uganda, for nearly a year in the mineral-rich east of the country.
Rwanda, which denies allegations it has been supporting M23, made clear it considered Mr Ladsous’s call for deploying drones premature.
Rwanda’s deputy UN ambassador Olivier Nduhungirehe said it was vital to know before deploying drones what the implications would be for individual countries’ sovereignty.
“It is not wise to use a device on which we don’t have enough information,” Mr Nduhungirehe said.
“Africa shall not become a laboratory for intelligence devices from overseas.”
Other diplomats, including Russia, China and some from Europe, have also expressed reservations.
They said there were unanswered questions about who would receive the information from the drones and how widely it would be disseminated.
They also expressed discomfort at the idea of the United Nations becoming an active gatherer of intelligence.
France, the United States, Britain and other council members are supportive of the idea of using drones.