By Michelle Nichols
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said on Wednesday that U.N. peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo are aiding a government that is "corrupt and preys on its citizens" as negotiations for the mission's renewal continue.
"The U.N. peacekeeping mission is mandated to partner with the government," Haley told the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. "In other words, the U.N. is aiding a government that is inflicting predatory behavior against its own people. We should have the decency and common sense to end this."
U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said the mandate of the peacekeeping mission, as determined by the Security Council, is "ultimately to protect and safeguard the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo."
"It is not there simply as support for any government or any force in the Democratic Republic of Congo," Haq told reporters.
Haley's comments came two days before the expiration of the mandate for the $1.2 billion mission in the central African state, known as MONUSCO. Confidential Security Council negotiations on its renewal are taking place amid U.N. warnings that violence is spreading across Congo ahead of planned elections before the end of 2017.
The United States wants the troop cap to be cut by one-quarter to 15,000, diplomats said, and despite a request by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to add two extra police units of 320 officers, Washington does not want to change the current total of 1,050.
Adding to the tensions was the announcement this week that villagers had discovered the bodies of two U.N. investigators and their Congolese interpreter who went missing this month in Kasai Central province, an area engulfed in a violent uprising.
Resource-rich Congo, which gained independence from colonial power Belgium in 1960, has never had a peaceful transition of power. President Joseph Kabila's refusal to stand down when his final term expired in December raised fears the chronically unstable country could slide back into civil war.
Opposition leaders signed a fragile deal with the ruling coalition and allies of Kabila on Dec. 31 that requires him to step down after elections that must happen by the end of 2017.
"Failure to move ahead with the accord clearly thwarts the will of the Congolese people and jeopardizes the progress achieved thus far," acting U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said on Tuesday.
"The United States urges government and opposition leaders to refrain from any statements or actions that could incite violence or unrest," he said.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Walker Simon, Paul Simao and Jeffrey Benkoe)