Security Council, African Union agree to bolster cooperation

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Members of the United Nations Security Council this weekend held talks with their African Union (AU) counterpart in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, agreeing to enhance cooperation, especially in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peacekeeping and peace building.

During the consultative meeting, a follow-up to two previous gatherings in 2007 and 2008, the Security Council and the AU’s Peace and Security Council (PSC) “agreed to pursue their consultations on ways and means to strengthen their cooperation and partnership,” according to a communiqué issued after the talks.

The UN News Service adds they reaffirmed their commitment to enhancing collaboration in areas including the promotion of human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Africa.

Among topics discussed by members of the Security Council and the PSC were the situations in Somalia and Sudan relations between Sudan and Chad and unconstitutional changes in African governments.

The meeting at AU Headquarters today is part of the Security Council members’ week-long trip to Africa, which will also take them to Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Liberia.

The Ambassadors of France, Uganda, the United Kingdom and the United States will lead or co-lead the different segments of the trip, which wraps up on 21 May.

Last June, the 15-member body visited Djibouti, Sudan, Chad, DRC and Côte d’Ivoire last June during a 10-day trip to the continent.

Meanwhile Oxfam, humanitarian aid organisation, is calling on the Security Council that is visiting the Democratic Republic of Congo today to press for urgent action to protect civilians.

Speaking on behalf of a coalition of 68 aid and human rights groups, Oxfam says the council should make clear to both the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo (MONUC) and the Congolese army that stronger measures to protect civilians are urgently needed during military operations against Rwandan militias.
“The Security Council gave the green light to UN peacekeepers to support Congolese armed forces in military operations in eastern Congo against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and the Rally for Unity and Democracy (RUD).  

“But since military operations began in late January 2009, first supported by the Rwandan government and later by UN peacekeepers, these militias have deliberately targeted the civilian population in North and South Kivu in apparent ‘reprisal` attacks,” Oxfam says.
“The military operations were intended to end the attacks on civilians, not to bring more deadly reprisals,” said Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior researcher in the Africa division of Human Rights Watch.

“As the operations expand into South Kivu, the consequences are likely to be just as dire. Urgent action is clearly needed to protect the people in these areas.”

In a recent attack on May 9 and 10, dozens of civilians, including many children, were killed and many others wounded in Busurungi, in Walikale territory. Reports from local officials indicate the FDLR were the attackers, but due to the remoteness of the region the information has not yet been confirmed. A UN team has been sent to investigate the incident.

The coalition stressed that while the militias pose a grave threat to civilians, and are committing war crimes, the military operation against them, known as Kimia II, has contributed to further suffering of civilians trapped in conflict areas. Rampant abuses reportedly committed by Congolese army soldiers against civilians are exacerbating an already dangerous situation.
 

Since the beginning of military operations against the two Rwandan militia groups, 250 000 civilians have been displaced from their homes. Hundreds of women and girls have been raped, and at least 200 civilians have been killed, the vast majority reportedly by FDLR combatants.



The organizations called on the Security Council delegates to take effective action to:
— Ensure the development of a detailed and transparent plan for protection of civilians as part of military operations;
— Ensure that MONUC establishes and monitors clear benchmarks as conditions for continued collaboration and support for Congolese army
military operations, upholding its own responsibility to ensure respect for international humanitarian and human rights law in any such action;
— Urgently seek the deployment of the additional 3,000 peacekeepers, logistics and intelligence support needed for MONUC and authorized by the Security Council to increase its protection of civilians.
“UN peacekeepers face huge challenges in promoting both lasting peace and immediate security, but the Security Council cannot afford to sacrifice the protection of the very civilians it aims to protect,” said Marcel Stoessel, head of Oxfam in the DRC. “It`s time for the council to pull out all the stops, give peacekeepers the resources they need, and push for non-military action to be given greater priority than at present.”