The UN Security Council has voted to keep its peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo at its current size through mid-February.

However, it has opened the door to possible cutbacks after that date.

The UN now has 18,000 troops on the ground in the DRC, the largest UN peacekeeping force in operation.

But some budget-wary council members have been eyeing reductions after a 29 October presidential election in the mineral-rich but troubled central African nation.

The 15-nation council extended the mission's mandate until 15 February, 2007, in line with a recommendation from UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Congo's elections, the first free elections in the former Belgian colony for more than 40 years, will hopefully put an end to Africa's bloodiest conflict, a civil war that has killed 4 million people since 1998.