Plans to help UN peacekeepers working in the Democratic Republic of Congo by using surveillance drones won US backing on Wednesday, despite opposition from Rwanda and other neighbours.
"The United States does support the UN's proposal to use unarmed, unmanned aerial vehicles, for example, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, to increase the surveillance capacity of the UN peacekeeping operation," a US official said.
The idea to use the model aircraft-size drones equipped purely with photographic equipment could even be extended to other countries, said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.
"This would only happen with the consent of the country or the countries where the mission would operate, and their use would not impact in any way on sovereignty," she stressed.
Such a move would better enable the United Nations "to protect civilians and will support the efforts of the DRC to restore stability in the eastern part of the country," she added.
UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said on Tuesday he had asked the Security Council to help strengthen its DR Congo operation. "So more helicopters, perhaps some with night vision, river capacities and then this question of aerial surveillance equipment -- drones," he said.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is expected to reinforce the case for drones in a report he is preparing on strengthening the UN mission in DR Congo.
The council called for action after M23 rebels swept aside government forces and UN peacekeepers as they took the key provincial capital of Goma in November.
DR Congo is already the UN's biggest peacekeeping mission with more than 17,000 troops. But the forces are spread thin in the huge country and the UN is under orders to cut costs.
Drones could also perhaps be used to try to track down the head of the Lord's Resistance Army, Joseph Kony, who has been on the run in the jungles of Central Africa, Nuland said.
The LRA has waged a fierce insurgency across four countries for the past two decades, becoming infamous for mutilating victims and abducting children for use as sex slaves and soldiers.