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Drones: Amazon talks the talk, the UN walks the walk

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Amazon hopes drones may soon take over the retail world. The UN hopes drones will help peacekeeping work.

The UN’s first unmanned and unarmed aircraft took flight in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo on Tuesday. They will patrol airspace over the region to track rebel groups along the border with Rwanda and Uganda.

Limited infrastructure and large forests have made it hard for Congolese and UN MONUSCO peacekeepers to patrol the region. The UN hopes the drones will help with their work in the Congo and elsewhere.

“One can observe the movements of the armed groups, movements of populations and can even see the arms carried by people on the ground, and it is also possible to see people in forested areas,” said MONUSCO Force Commander General Santos Cruz.

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Two drones are deployed for the time being. They are capable of capturing images from as high as three kilometers, said Cruz. The peacekeeping mission hopes to achieve twenty-four hour surveillance over the troubled region.

The program does have its critics. Philipp Rotmann of Germany’s Global Public Policy Institute told Voice of America that the needed maintenance of the drones and the fact that there are only two should be reason to believe that they will not provide the coverage that the UN claims.

Others are more optimistic about the potential of the program and what it signals.

“It is truly astonishing that the U.N. is only now mainstreaming drones in one of its most significant peace operations, and it has taken the U.N. a whole year, in effect, to get its first drone in the air over the eastern Congo,” said Richard Gowan of NYU to VOA.

It all comes at a time of change for the rebel situation in the Congo. The government is in talks with the M23 rebels following the group’s announcement that it would put down weapons, last month. Both sides signaled that an agreement would be reached within a week, but talks continue to drag on.

Meanwhile, other rebel factions continue to create problems for Congolese citizens. The UN is hopeful that the increased surveillance will not only provide much needed intelligence, it will help reduce rebel attacks.

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About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.