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Homepage > Publication Type > Open Letters > Prevent the Return to Full-scale War in the Congo

Prevent the Return to Full-scale War in the Congo

Brussels  |   6 Jun 2004

The International Crisis Group urges world leaders to act quickly to strengthen the peace process in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and prevent a return to full-scale war there.

In a letter (full text below) to foreign ministers of Belgium, France, South Africa, the UK and the U.S., and to permanent representatives of UN Security Council members, ICG President Gareth Evans has warned that the deterioration of the situation in the Congo is now critical and demands an urgent response.

"Without the strong support of the international community, the peace process in the Congo and the UN effort to sustain it are at risk of failure", says Evans.

Since the formation of the Transitional Government in July 2003, the international community has not provided adequate political or military support to the effort to establish peace and security in the Congo. The Security Council has authorised only 10,800 troops in a country the size of Western Europe. In contrast, the three UN missions in West Africa, covering an area about a quarter of the size of the Congo, have a total of 30,000 troops. Many of the troops sent to the Congo are poorly trained and ill-equipped, and they have often demonstrated insufficient will to carry out their current mandate robustly.

The effort to establish a national army that can ensure stability in the country is faltering and various armed groups continue to threaten the stability of the country. The Congo's neighbours continue to perceive the situation as a threat to their interests and have taken actions that further destabilise the fragile process of transition. The process of political transition is at risk of failure as well.

The long-term resolution of the Congo's security needs lies in an enduring political solution within the country and good relationships with its neighbors. The massacre of Congolese refugees in Gatumba, the fighting in the Kivus and Ituri and the ongoing tensions in Kinshasa and among regional capitals are stark warnings that the conflict in the Congo can quickly spiral into another major war.


20 August 2004

[To  Foreign Ministers of  Belgium France South Africa , the  UK  and the  U.S. , and to permanent representatives of UN Security Council members ]

I am writing to urge the Security Council to act quickly to strengthen the peace process in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and provide its peacekeeping mission there, MONUC, with the capability it needs -- both in terms of resources and mandate -- to deal with the risk of a return to full-scale war. The International Crisis Group strongly endorses the 16 August 2004 Special Report of the Secretary General (S/2004/650) and encourages the adoption of its recommendations, strengthened in some areas, as soon as possible. Without the strong support of the international community, the peace process in the Congo and the UN effort to sustain it are at risk of failure.

Since the formation of the Transitional Government in July 2003, the international community has not provided adequate political or military support to the effort to establish peace and security in the Congo. The Security Council has authorised only 10,800 troops in a country the size of Western Europe. In contrast, the three UN missions in West Africa, covering an area about a quarter of the size of the Congo, have a total of 30,000 troops. Many of the troops sent to the Congo are poorly trained and ill-equipped, and they have often demonstrated insufficient will to carry out their current mandate robustly.

The effort to establish a national army that can ensure stability in the country is faltering and various armed groups continue to threaten the stability of the country. The Congo's neighbours continue to perceive the situation as a threat to their interests and have taken actions that further destabilise the fragile process of transition. The process of political transition is at risk of failure as well. Bukavu's fall to renegades in June 2004 was a severe blow both to the Transitional Government in Kinshasa and to MONUC's efforts to support the transition. The 13 August 2004 massacre of Congolese refugees in Gatumba, Burundi, highlights the dangers of allowing the security situation and political process to founder.

The Special Report of the Secretary General is a bold challenge to the international community to support the UN and the transitional process in the Congo. I urge your government to take up that challenge and support the main recommendations of the report: restoration of security, effective territorial reunification, adoption of an adequate legislative framework, and holding of credible national elections. To succeed, MONUC needs more troops, more capacity, and a greater will to act quickly and forcefully. In the long run, sustainable peace is impossible without further political progress and a very considerable degree of self-restraint on the part of Congo's eastern neighbours.

In order to ensure strong international commitment for this process, I urge you to both provide and help galvanise the necessary political, military, financial, and logistical support. Leaders in key states, especially the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, and South Africa, must solicit broad support for implementation of the Secretary General's recommendations -- which need some strengthening, particularly in the areas of MONUC's use-of-force mandate and the composition of the additional troops.

These key countries must also work to strengthen the International Committee in Support of the Transition (CIAT) and ensure higher level attention to the urgent needs in the Congo. CIAT's first ministerial-level meeting, scheduled to take place during the UN General Assembly meeting in New York at the end of September, is a very welcome and timely step in that regard. The Council should also support the creation of a regional support group of eminent African personalities called for by the Secretary General.

The following is a more detailed assessment, issue by issue, of the actions now required by the Security Council in the context of the renewal of MONUC's mandate on or before 1 October 2004.

More troops and more capability

The United Nations Security Council must endorse the Secretary General's request for an additional 13,100 troops and key states must ensure that they are capable and well-equipped. Developed countries, in particular NATO and EU member states, but also other countries with this capacity, should provide a portion of the new troops and ensure that they are highly-trained and well-equipped. Such forces should include a rapid reaction force as well as a Special Forces battalion capable of, among other tasks, collection of information, provision of reconnaissance, and electronic warfare. Improving MONUC's technical surveillance and intelligence capabilities is crucial, whether by providing contributions on the ground or making available the product of national assets.

The new force should include 100 NATO-trained staff officers to supervise the proposed creation of a Division Headquarters in eastern Congo. Strong, skilled leaders, and sound staff procedures are needed for a successful command and control reorganisation. MONUC would also greatly benefit from additional airborne transport assets.

Stronger mandate

Assuming that the additional capable troops are provided, MONUC's mandate should be strengthened to eliminate current confusion and implement the Secretary General's call "to strengthen MONUC's capacity to deter spoilers, particularly in key areas of potential volatility." ICG urges the Council to clarify and enhance MONUC's mandate in two ways. First, the international community should implement one of the lessons learned from Sierra Leone and ensure that MONUC has both the authority and obligation to act pre-emptively to counter threats to the peace process. To that end, the Council should explicitly authorise MONUC to "respond robustly to any attack or threat of attack, including, if necessary, in a pre-emptive manner." MONUC must take proactive action -- to the absolute maximum of its capacity -- to protect civilians and humanitarian workers under threat.

Secondly, the Security Council must reiterate its recognition that the Transitional Government is the sole legitimate governing authority in the Congo and urge MONUC to "assist the efforts of the Government of National Unity and Transition to maintain or restore law and order and to stabilise the situation throughout the entire country."

A key area of concern is the continued failure of the Congolese government to establish control over the country's natural resources, which fuels breaches of the arms embargo and exacerbates the fragile security situation. MONUC should seize sites of known illegal exploitation, especially when it is evident that they constitute a financial lifeline for armed groups. While such a task is the responsibility of the national army, MONUC can perform this function in strategic areas, especially Ituri, until the government forces are capable of doing so.

Disarmament

One of the fundamental impediments to a successful transition in the Congo is the failure of the national army to establish control over the entire country and the continuing destabilising presence of armed groups, particularly of Rwandan Hutu rebels in eastern Congo, the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR).

Rwanda is legitimately concerned by the 8,000-12,000 FDLR combatants situated near its border, many of whom participated in the 1994 genocide. The voluntary DDRRR program has not had the desired impact. It is difficult to say how many of the 9,000-10,000 Rwandans whom MONUC reports having repatriated were actual fighters; the key problem is how to deal with those who are still in Congo.

As the Secretary General asserts, "the full participation of the Transitional Government and the active cooperation of Rwanda" are required. While strong arguments -- for which ICG has some sympathy -- can be made for mounting a forcible disarmament operation, we acknowledge that there is presently insufficient support in the Council for that to be a realistic option. In these circumstances, the international community must redouble its efforts to address the ongoing threat from the FDLR by applying pressure on the Transitional Government in Kinshasa to muster the political will and required resources to itself disarm foreign forces in eastern Congo, with active and robust assistance from a more proactive MONUC. A comprehensive solution also requires incentives for the FDLR to disarm and return to Rwanda, and Kigali must assist this process by re-engaging in political dialogue with its exiled opponents.

Other combatants also threaten to derail the Congolese peace process. In Ituri alone, numerous armed groups, such as l'Union des Patriotes Congolais (UPC), Forces Armées du Peuple Congolais (FAPC), and Front des Nationalistes et Intégrationistes (FNI) continue to pillage, rape, and kill, often with indirect support from Rwanda or Uganda. Eastern Congo is also home to Ugandan armed groups and the possibility remains real of Ugandan military intervention in the Congo to defeat these forces, an event that could easily lead to greater conflict. Until such armed groups are disarmed and demobilised, Congo's transition will be in danger. The government, assisted by MONUC, must seek their disarmament and demobilisation and undertake a more robust effort to dry up the sources of support of these groups.

Monitoring of arms

UNSC Resolution 1533 (2004) established a committee to monitor the implementation of the arms embargo imposed by UNSC Resolution 1493 (2003) and to make recommendations to strengthen its

effectiveness. Following the 15 July 2004 report of the Group of Experts on the Congo, which concluded that Rwanda had supported, both directly and indirectly, the June attack on Bukavu, the Council should revisit the question of the arms embargo, note the conclusions of the Group of Experts, and express readiness to consider additional measures, such as revocation of visas and freezing of assets, if further violations of UNSCR 1493 and 1552 are committed.

Violations of the arms embargo unquestionably aggravate the conflict in Congo. The work of the Group of Experts, therefore, is of utmost importance. ICG appeals to the Council for an extension of its mandate until the end of the arms embargo on 31 July 2005. So long as the Council maintains the embargo, the Group of Experts should continue to report on its status. In addition MONUC should continue to support the Joint Verification Mechanisms between Congo and Rwanda and Congo and Uganda, ensuring that they begin functioning as soon as possible.

Political Process

The fundamental problem in the Congo, however, is the failure to implement the program of reform as agreed to in the December 2002 Pretoria Agreement. To date, the government of transition has not shown any will or capability to address the major political challenges, impeding the achievement of peace, stability and democracy in the country. ICG urges that the UN resume its partnership with South African leaders and bring together the key players to address the continuing political challenges, including the question of nationality, especially in eastern Congo, the creation of a national army, and the territorial unification of the country. While the Transitional Government is limited both by lack of resources and capacity, any improvement is impeded by the major players who continually jockey for advantage with one eye on the elections that are supposed to take place next June.

As the Secretary General's report recognises, "the efforts of the international community could have more impact if its political goals and financial and material assistance were to be carefully calibrated." Indeed, the International Committee in Support of the Transition (CIAT) has not been active enough in representing its views and in providing a forum for cooperation by Kinshasa's major international partners. Greater overall coordination would have an exponential effect on its effectiveness, such as in the all-important area of security sector reform. CIAT should insist that the Transitional Government or individuals within it fulfil the commitments they have made. As always, all assistance and support must be contingent upon meeting reasonable standards of transparency and democratic accountability. A key objective of the international community must also be to support the independent institutions that will contribute to a sustainable democracy in the DRC, including those pursuing justice and reconciliation.

Regional Dynamics

What happens in the Congo is of direct concern to all its neighbours, particularly Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. The Security Council should reiterate its demand that Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi abstain from belligerent involvement in the Congo. As you know, immediately following the Gatumba massacre, high officials from both Rwanda and Burundi warned of possible intervention of their armies in the DRC. The Council should again condemn illegal exploitation of Congolese resources, encourage neighbouring states to exercise their influence in the Congo responsibly, and remind those states that a sustainable peace is the best way to protect their interests.

The deterioration of the situation in the Congo demands an urgent response. The long-term resolution of the DRC's security needs lies in an enduring political solution within the country and good relationships with its neighbors. The massacre of Congolese refugees in Gatumba, the fighting in the Kivus and Ituri and the ongoing tensions in Kinshasa and among regional capitals are stark warnings that the conflict in the Congo can quickly spiral into another larger-scale war. On behalf of the International Crisis Group, I urge the Council to take strong and immediate action in support of the Congo's difficult transition.

Yours sincerely,

GARETH EVANS

President, International Crisis Group

 
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