Members of the UN Security Council (UNSC) expressed reservations on Thursday over the Democratic Republic of Congo's (DRC) call to accelerate the withdrawal of UN peacekeeping forces.
Last week, Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi called on the UN to speed up the pullout of the Monusco peacekeeping mission that has been in the country for nearly 25 years.
He urged the pullout to begin by the end of this year, rather than December 2024 as planned.
The Security Council needs to renew the mandate for Monusco in December, with Kinshasa expressing doubts the force has been effective in protecting civilians from decades of militia violence.
With the security situation still very dangerous in the eastern part of the country, some UNSC members have expressed doubts about the advisability of accelerating the handover of peacekeeping to the Congolese military.
"The US is frankly concerned that DRC and regional security forces are not prepared to meet the security requirements of the Congolese people," said Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the UN.
UK Deputy Ambassador James Kariuki said London is prepared to consider a reduction in the number of peacekeepers, based on Kinshasa's request.
"However, we must also carefully consider the implications of Monusco's drawdown on the civilian population," Kariuki said.
"The consequences of a rushed departure would be severe," he added.
Congolese Minister of Foreign Affairs Christophe Lutundula criticised their "fixed" positions, warning against any temptation by the council to just reconfigure Monusco without a withdrawal.
"A second Monusco would be ... a mistake," he said, demanding a timeline for the pullout.
Monusco's chief, Bintou Keita of Guinea, said that setting a withdrawal date at this point would not be wise and called for discussions with the force's partners "to see exactly what they have in mind."
In 2020, the Security Council approved a gradual withdrawal plan with a broad framework for shifting the Blue Helmets' responsibilities to Congolese forces.
In an August report, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, without setting a timeframe, mentioned an initial cut of Monusco forces from 12,500 down to 10,500, while consolidating their presence in the higher-risk eastern region.
France's Ambassador to the UN Nicolas de Riviere said the Security Council should "take full account of the concrete and realistic demands of the Congolese authorities".
He stressed that a retreat of the peacekeepers be orderly and carried out in "close collaboration" with Kinshasa.