Recent military gains in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s violent eastern areas should serve as an impetus to restart peace talks, according to Mary Robinson, UN special envoy for Africa’s Great Lakes Region.
Robinson was speaking at the start of a tour to bolster diplomatic peace efforts following recent military successes by the DRC armed forces (FARDC), supported by the UN Force Intervention Brigade (FIB), made of up troops from Malawi, South Africa and Tanzania.
Her call follows SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Joint Operations Chief, Lieutenant General Derrick Mgwebi’s statement that a satisfactory end game in the DRC can only be achieved through the political process.
“We as a troop contributing country to the FIB, along with Malawi and Tanzania, are in the DRC to create a climate where negotiations can take place,” he told a briefing in Thaba Tshwane.
The three star general added that the current priority for the FIB was to ensure the M23 rebel group did not retake the eastern city of Goma.
Reuters reports that FARDC forces drove M23 from positions overlooking Goma, scoring their biggest victory since the current rebel uprising began about 18 months ago.
“When there is a military victory like this, it is a chance to advance with a political solution and that is better for a durable peace,” Robinson, a former Irish prime minister, said. She added that a military engagement was “sometimes necessary” to protect the population.
The military breakthrough came after the FIB, with a mandate to crush armed groups, entered combat for the first time. UN artillery and helicopters pounded M23 positions in Kabati, 11 km north of Goma, until rebels withdrew.
A Tanzanian member of the FIB was killed during fighting with M23 forces and three South African soldiers were wounded by shrapnel.
Mgwebi’s reference to a climate where political negotiations can happen was reinforced by Robinson who said: “This time it must be different. At international level we are more engaged than ever before”.
She was referring to the stalled peace talks in Kampala which started soon after M23 took control of Goma late last year.
Regional leaders will meet in the Ugandan capital later this week to discuss the DRC with increasing pressure for a solution coming from world powers. The meeting scheduled for 5 September in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, is expected to be attended by the 11 members of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR).
“Following the deteriorating situation in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, particularly in the recent days resulting in the death and injury of peace keepers from the Force Intervention Brigade, Uganda, as chair of the ICGLR felt it was very urgent to convene an extraordinary summit on 5 September 2013 composed of 11 member states”, read a statement released on Saturday by Uganda’s ministry of foreign affairs.
The United Nations and the DRC accuse Rwanda of supporting the M23 rebels. Rwanda denies the charge, saying lawless eastern Congo is used as a haven for rebels fighting the Kigali government.
Meanwhile, Tanzania’s government has pledged to continue its peacekeeping role in the DRC despite the death of one of its soldiers and the injury of five others last week.
“The killing of our fellow citizens in DR Congo should not make us retreat. Children cannot attend school in eastern DR Congo fearing their safety, mothers are being raped, and people there are experiencing all kinds of abuses,” Said Bernard Membe, Tanzanian Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.