Global leaders are stepping up the rhetoric this week as guns stay quiet in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) after an outbreak of fighting there caused a new humanitarian crisis.
The United Nations (UN) and African Union (AU) have appointed special envoys to mediate an end to the latest round of fighting that started in August. The AU is also planning a summit on the matter later this month while the Southern African Development Community, of which the DRC is a member, plans one for this weekend.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon says he is also ready to get personally involved in talks between DRC President Laurent Kabila and Rwandan leader Paul Kagame after a UN envoy said there was eyewitness evidence that Rwanda was supporting Tutsi insurgent leader Laurent Nkunda.
European Union (EU) foreign ministers, who met in Marseilles, France yesterday to discuss a “Mediterranean union” involving the economic bloc and its Mediterranean rim neighbours, also discussed the Congo crisis and seemingly backed away from aggressive statements last week that they are to deploy a 1500-strong battle group there.
Ban told reporters in New York yesterday that he has so far failed to persuade European or African leaders to reinforce what he called an “overstretched”‘ UN peacekeeping force in the DRC.
The UN force, known by its French acronym of MONUC, has 17 000 soldiers and civilian police in the country, including 900 in the Goma area, where Nkunda is active. It is the UN`s largest deployment ever and the most expensive. The DRC is the size of western Europe and has very little infrastructure, which has resulted in MONUC having a low force density. Aid organisations have also decried the force`s mandate, saying it is too restrictive for the circumstances and has largely ruled the force that includes over 1000 South African personnel irrelevant.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner at yesterday`s Marseilles meeting called on UN peacekeepers to be “more robust in defending refugees in eastern Congo” and urged “a major rethink” of the UN`s mission there.
Kouchner visited the DRC at the weekend to gauge what aid the EU could provide to help thousands of civilians who have fled a rebel offensive. Speaking before his departure he suggested a EU force could help. On his return he was less assertive.
“Do we need more soldiers? It is possible, but in any case we need different soldiers and different rules of engagement and a willingness for different leadership,” he said. “We need to change things… We need to be a bit more offensive. I’m not saying we have to wage war, but we need to take part in the defensive operation,” he said.
He also confirmed that MONUC`s Spanish commander Lt. Gen. Vicente Diaz de Villegas resigned his post last montyh after just seven months in the saddle in frustration and not “for personal reasons” as stated by the UN at the time.
“Why did the Spanish commander leave? Because he realised that he could not do what he wanted with the troops at his disposal,” Kouchner asserted.
“We have whole brigades that are not capable of getting involved even in a defensive action, let alone an offensive action because the rules of engagement aren’t strong enough, or are restrictive,” he added.
Kouchner complained there were only 800 UN peacekeepers in Goma [mostly South African] and said this number had to be boosted. He denied the UN force lacked sufficient air support, saying they had 83 planes at their disposal.
The French minister added that UN peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy, a Frenchman, is in Congo to assess the situation and will “shake up the operation.”
“He will redistribute the forces… “Is there a military solution to this problem? No. Can we perhaps provide a minimum security to allow NGOs to distribute food? Certainly. Will that be done? I hope so,” he added.
British Foreign Secretary David Millibrand added that “all eyes are on the DRC.
“All leaders need to know the world is watching, not just the world`s TV crews but the worlds political leaders are determined to make sure there is no repeat of the murderous activities of the 1990s,” he said in reference to the 1994 Rwandan genocide and two subsequent wars in the DRC.
UN, AU steps
Bloomberg adds that the UN chief has appointed former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo as his new special envoy to the region.
, meanwhile, has appointed Ibrahima Fall, Senegal’s former foreign minister, as its special envoy. He is due in Kinshasa and Kigali before flying to Tanzania to brief President Jakaya Kikwete who holds the rotating chairmanship of the AU, which is also preparing a meeting of regional leaders in Nairobi, Kenya, “for sometime this month.”
that Kikwete over the weekend proposed the summit to Ban, a move seconded by AU Commission chief Jean Ping. ThisDay newspaper
reports in Lagos that Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chief Ojo Maduekwe, has also called for an emergency meeting of the Peace and Security Council of the African Union (AU).
The SADC will this weekend hold an extraordinary meeting on the situation in the DRC. Although slated to deal with the ongoing crisis in Zimbabwe, SABC News says
the meeting will also discuss the DRC. Foreign Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said the meeting will take place on Sunday in South Africa.
Dlamini-Zuma says the humanitarian crisis should not be overlooked. “There are thousands of people without food, who have been left homeless, and who don`t have access to medication. The humanitarian crisis needs our urgent attention.”
In another development, the UN says MONUC observed Rwandan forces firing tank shells or other heavy artillery across the border at Congolese troops during fighting last week.
The Associated Press
says the DRC government has accused Rwanda of actively supporting warlord Nkunda, “but the accusation marks the first time the UN has publicly said Rwanda was overtly involved in the latest fighting. Rwanda has repeatedly denied its military is involved in the conflict.
UN spokeswoman Sylvie van den Wildenberg told The AP in Goma that Uruguayan peacekeepers saw Rwandan tanks and other heavy artillery fired into Congo on Wednesday as Nkunda’s forces advanced toward the town. “… we saw it. We observed it.”
Alan Doss, the top UN envoy in Congo, said in a videoconference Monday that the “fire had come across the border from Rwanda near the Kibumba (displaced) camp where hostilities were under way.”
Rwanda invaded Congo twice in the late 1990s but both times initially denied its troops were there. Rwanda finally pulled its military out after a 2002 peace deal ended a war in Congo that drew in half a dozen African nations.
Nkunda called a ceasefire on Thursday that appears to be holding.
In 2002 a peace researcher suggested that the ongoing violence in the Great Lakes Region (GLR) was the result of too little – rather than too much – military spending. Arguing in the June 2002 edition of the Institute for Strategic Studies at the University of Pretoria`s Strategic Review for Southern Africa, Bjørn Møller, then programme director and board member at the Copenhagen Peace Research Institute said one “of the main problems with states in the GLR is the nature of their security sector in general and their armed forces in particular.
“This is not a matter of excessive military spending… Both in absolute terms and per capita terms, the GLR states are almost desperately under-militarised, especially in view of the different threat environments. … The territories and borders of the GLR states are thus much more thinly defended than the European ones – even though their neighbours are generally less confidence-inspiring. … The result is a profoundly unstable situation where none of the GLR countries is capable of defending themselves, but all have at least some means of attacking others. The inadequacy of defensive strength even produces motives for military interventions … spurred by ‘kill or be killed` motives
Bjørn Møller, Strategic Review for Southern Africa, Institute for Strategic Studies University of Pretoria, June 2002, pp41-2.