DR Congo + 2 more

Press Conference by Democratic Republic of Congo

Press Briefing - 20000403
At a Headquarters press conference this afternoon, the Permanent Representative of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the United Nations questioned the Security Council's sincerity about deploying peacekeeping troops in his country.

Responding to a correspondent's question, André Mwamba Kapanga said that the delay in sending peacekeeping troops to his country was the first time that he had heard the United Nations invoke the need for a ceasefire before peacekeepers could be deployed. Peacekeeping troops had been sent to Kosovo, Bosnia and Croatia even as fighting was continuing.

Mr. Kapanga said that in his country's case, the Organization had said that a ceasefire must be in place before troops could go in. A ceasefire had been signed, but then the United Nations had said the shooting had to stop. There had been a long period in the central and southern parts of the country when nobody was shooting, yet the Organization had not deployed peacekeepers.

He went on: "My feeling is that people have to be sincere. You either go to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to bring peace and stop the suffering, the misery, death and desolation in the country, or you simply let them die. I think, so far, the Council has chosen the latter."

He said that more than 1 million refugees and internally displaced people were suffering in the United Republic of Tanzania and in government-controlled areas of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. "Even the level of humanitarian assistance given to those refugees and displaced people is very low in comparison to the kind of humanitarian assistance we saw in Kosovo", he said.

Mr. Kapanga recalled a meeting at the end of January that had brought together the leaders of countries involved in the Congolese conflict. That meeting had resulted in the adoption of a new calendar for the Lusaka Peace Accord of July 1999 and the adoption of Security Council resolution 1291 (2000).

Regrettably, he said, there had been no improvement in the peace process since then. While the various forces on the ground had been asked not to undertake any new offensives and to remain in the positions they occupied in February 2000, Rwanda had recently announced advances in the western Kasai province, taking the northern towns of Idumbe and Demba, as well as the provincial capital of Kananga, Mashala in the east and Luiza in the south.

Mr. Kapanga said that the most troubling fact was that, despite the latest United Nations efforts to isolate the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), Rwanda had used the rebel group to take Luiza, which was not far from the Angolan border. In north-western Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda had consistently been attacking government forces. The strategy of both Rwanda and Uganda had been to claim that their troops were only responding to Congolese government offensives.

Given those facts, he said, one was led to believe that neither Rwanda nor Uganda intended to respect the new calendar for freezing their advances, or resolution 1291. They were intent on continuing to plunder the resources of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. An example of their bad faith was the recent build-up of their forces in diamond-rich Kisangani, which both wanted to control.

He said that during his recent trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Bernard Miyet, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, had received assurances that the Government would cooperate fully with the United Nations in implementing resolution 1291. That explained the prompt visits made by United Nations technical teams to Mbandaka, Kananga, Matadi and Mbuji-Mayi. While the latter two towns had previously been off-limits to the Organization, a United Nations team had returned last week to evaluate Mbuji-Mayi further.

In light of those facts, he added, the Secretary-General should already have made a decision to send United Nations observers to areas where no combat was taking place. Their presence in the field would have allowed the Security Council to determine who was to blame for any skirmishes. He urged the Secretary-General to accelerate the process and not to hold it hostage to technical or administrative difficulties.

Asked by another correspondent to describe the situation on the ground, Mr. Kapanga said that two days after Mr. Miyet's departure from Kinshasa, Rwanda had announced the fall of Idumbe, Demba, Mashala and Luiza. Congolese government forces were respecting the ceasefire, in line with the Lusaka Accord, except to defend themselves against continuing attacks by Rwanda and Uganda.

How did President Laurent Kabila expect to solidify his legitimacy and unify the country if opposition parties boycotted planned elections? another journalist asked.

Mr. Kapanga said the elections were intended to put in place a system that would help the President lead the country. The Government strongly encouraged all Congolese who wanted the war to end to take part in the process, which would help the country move forward.

Another correspondent asked about the Government's denial of clearance for former Botswana President Ketumile Masire to visit the interior. Mr. Kapanga said that the Government had not been aware that Mr. Masire was planning to visit the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It had been a communication problem. The authorities in Kinshasa wanted Mr. Masire to return very quickly.

How would the military situation be affected by Zimbabwe's reported plans to withdraw troops supporting the Government? another journalist asked. Mr. Kapanga replied that he had not heard such reports.