UN council holds first video briefings of coronavirus era

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. Security Council held its first video conference briefings of the coronavirus era Tuesday on the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo, and recognized the improving political and security situation in most parts of the country except the volatile mineral-rich east.

The council meeting, the first since March 12, was held without any prior notice to the media, apparently as a trial run ahead of a session on Thursday where several resolutions are expected to be adopted. Diplomats said there were some technical glitches on Tuesday and no decision has yet been made about how Thursday’s meeting will be conducted.

The U.N. headquarters complex overlooking New York’s East River is open and Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has been working in his 38th floor office, but a building which on a normal day gets about 11,000 swipes of passes of staff going in or out got only 51 swipes by 11 a.m. on Tuesday, with the overwhelming majority of people working from home.

According to diplomats, the Security Council’s closed virtual meeting lasted about four hours and included briefings by Leila Zerrougui, the U.N. envoy for Congo, and U.N. peacekeeping chief Jean-Pierre Lacroix as well as a discussion on how the U.N.’s most powerful body will conduct its business during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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There has been growing pressure to reduce the size of the more than 18,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo, known as MONUSCO.

Guterres said “MONUSCO has begun consultations with the Government on a strategic dialogue to ensure that the draw down and exit are carefully sequenced” to sustain gains of the past two decades. The council encouraged the government to work with its members and the U,N, Secretariat on “a joint strategy and benchmarks for draw down.”

Congo’s President Felix Tshisekedi has been in office since January 2019 and Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a report to the council circulated Tuesday that the coalition government, including his supporters and a coalition backing his predecessor Joseph Kabila, “remained relatively stable,” noting its timely approval to the 2020 state budget. “Nevertheless, a number of high-profile public statements continued to signal underlying tensions,” the U.N. chief said.

The Security Council echoed Guterres’ concerns about ongoing violence in the east, where dozens of armed groups are active. Tens of thousands of people have fled fighting, which also complicated the global response to an Ebola outbreak in the region.

Guterres welcomed “the recent milestone of releasing the last Ebola patient from treatment” but urged vigilance until the virus’s complete eradication is assured. The Security Council also welcomed progress on combating the Ebola virus, noting the absence of new cases over the last month.

Council members also welcomed steps taken by Congolese authorities to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.

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