A Southern African Development Community team dispatched by a heads of state summit to investigate fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo is currently in Goma, epicentre of recent violence, Institute or Security Studies peacekeeping analyst Henri Boshoff says.
The ten-person SADC team left for the DRC on Sunday “for between a week and 10 days” and first visited capital Kinshasa where they spoke to government and United Nations (UN) officials before heading east.
The team is tasked with determining the viability of deploying an advisory team to the DRC to assist the Armed Forces of the DRC (FARDC), and/or a monitoring force on the Rwanda-Uganda-DRC border, and/or a SADC intervention force.
Boshoff says it is now unlikely that an intervention force will be deployed.
Violence flared up earlier this month when forces loyal to Tutsi insurgent leader Laurent Nkunda attacked the FARDC after sporadic fighting that has been ongoing since August. Aid agencies says the renewed disorder has displaced about 250 000 people.
The UN has meanwhile decided to temporarily boost its peacekeeping force, known by its French acronym of MONUC by “more than 3000 troops”. With a current force strength of 17 000 uniformed personnel, MONUC is already the UN`s biggest ever deployment.
Alan Doss, the UN Secretary-General`s Special Representative to the DRC and MONUC head of mission says the additional blue helmets that will be deployed to create space for political and diplomatic peace efforts to press ahead.
Doss says discussions are already under way with potential troop and police-contributing nations.
“Above all, we want to stabilize the situation in order that the political and diplomatic processes can go forward,” he said. “I don`t think the solution to the problems of the Congo and the eastern DRC lie exclusively in military force.”
The UN news service meanwhile says UN special envoy Olusegun Obasanjo, the former Nigerian president, has wrapped up his first phase of talks with regional leaders, including DRC President Joseph Kabila and Nkunda.
It adds Obasanjo is in New York today to consult with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and will return to the region tomorrow to resume his diplomatic efforts, which will also address the ongoing problem of the presence of Rwandan armed groups, some linked to the 1994 genocide there.
But Doss warns that it will take “a couple of months” before the extra forces authorized by the Security Council are on the ground, and he repeated his call for a multinational force as a “bridging measure” until MONUC is reinforced.
“We should also be mindful that MONUC`s presence should not replace the national authority and security forces in their responsibility to protect civilians and protect the territory of the DRC,” the Representative added.
Reuters reports, meanwhile, that Belgium is willing to contribute to the force Doss is asking for.
The agency quotes Belgian Foreign Minister Karel de Gucht as saying Ban has requested a European role in such a force and European Union foreign ministers would discuss various options in the coming weeks.
“If this were a European operation with a very well defined command structure and rules of engagement, yes, my country would be ready to participate in this with troops,” de Gucht told reporters after the council meeting in which he said Belgium was in favour of European action.
Ban sees the need for a bridging force lasting between three and six months, de Gucht added.
Doss says the force could be a “stand-by, over-the-horizon capacity” that could be quickly put to use “if things go really bad” before the UN reinforcements arrive.
Reuters further reports that the Security Council received a report from Ban’s office that said government soldiers and rebels had committed serious human right abuses, including mass killings, arbitrary executions, rape and torture.
The document, obtained by Reuters on Monday, called the human rights situation in the mineral-rich country “a cause for grave concern.”
Human Rights Watch, Oxfam and other non-governmental agencies urged the Security Council yesterday to rewrite the mandate of MONUC to focus more on protection of civilians, especially women and children who have been subject to sexual violence and increased recruitment of child soldiers.
Carina Tertsakian, a representative of Global Witness, also urged the council to address illicit exploitation of natural resources, especially coltan and gold, by rebel groups and some units of the army.
She said international companies should do more to identify the origin of all their mineral supplies, and refuse to buy from areas of conflict, rather than turn a blind eye to a trade that was fuelling the violence in Congo.
De Gucht said mineral resources were one of the main reasons for the conflict and vowed to look into any Belgian-based companies identified by Global Witness as involved in such trade. “Tackling the sources of financing of armed groups could turn out to be more effective than any other military strategy,” he told the council.
In another development, AFP reports that the Congolese government has written to Ban to say it would not welcome more Indian troops.
Congolese government spokesman Lambert Mende said Wednesday in Kinshasa that the letter had been sent to Ban rejecting India’s offer to contribute additional troops.
Diplomatic sources say India proposed an extra 1200 soldiers to supplement the 4400 it already has in the DRC. India also provides all of MONUC`s assault helicopters.
“This will be a matter for the Secretary-General to consider when deciding on troop deployment,” Ban`s spokeswoman Michelle Montas told reporters. “We always take into account the point of view of the host country.”
Asked about the Indian contingent already present in the country, she added that “the Indian brigade is on the frontline in North Kivu, it has been quite active in the last few months, they have been performing quite well and beyond the call of duty and under very difficult circumstances.”
Diplomats told AFP Tuesday that the letter to Ban did not mention India by name, but undoubtedly referred to the Indian contingent of MONUC.
“In view of the numerous abuses of power carried out by certain troops within MONUC, the (Congolese) people would not understand if soldiers from the same country would be used to boost numbers within MONUC,” said the letter, which the sources read to AFP.
The BBC says Indian peacekeepers have been accused of gold trafficking and sexual abuse.