DR Congo

Press conference on situation in Democratic Republic of the Congo

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Alan Doss, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, outlined efforts to address the crisis in North Kivu Province this afternoon, including diplomatic efforts by the new Special Envoy, the redeployment of forces to the east of the country, the request for an additional 3,000 peacekeepers and plans to create a separation zone between the belligerent parties.

Addressing a Headquarters press conference via video-link from Kinshasa, he said that over the past week, the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) had focused on supporting the work of former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, the newly appointed United Nations Special Envoy on the conflict in Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, while also trying to stabilize the situation, improve humanitarian access and pave the way for the political and diplomatic process. While still extremely difficult, the humanitarian situation was slowly improving, with a number of convoys having reached the conflict area and some internally displaced persons moving away from the front lines.

Mr. Obasanjo had been meeting with the principal protagonists and various regional leaders, including those in Kigali, Kampala and Nairobi, he continued. Following his meeting with Laurent Nkunda, leader of the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), that group had announced today that it would renew the ceasefire and pull back from certain areas, allowing MONUC to turn them into "a zone of separation". Efforts were also under way to arrange military talks between various armed groups. Congolese and Rwandan delegations had met over the weekend, agreeing to continue discussing issues of common interest. Among the regional players involved were the African Union and the International Conference on the Great Lakes.

Among other actions to address the situation, he mentioned the redeployment of MONUC, which was bringing additional forces into North Kivu, the site of recent fighting. To a certain extent, however, that reconfiguration seemed like "robbing Peter to pay Paul", and it was to be hoped that the Security Council would approve the request to increase the number of peacekeepers by about 3,000 later this week. The 17,000-strong Mission has about 6,000 peacekeepers in various North Kivu locations.

Asked to comment on reported "command and control" problems in MONUC, the Special Representative said there was no question about the commitment of South Africa's contingents, which had engaged in a number of actions and taken some casualties. The issues with Pakistan's contingents related to the agreement that country had signed with the United Nations, and the proposal that they move north must be discussed with the Pakistani authorities. To avoid such bureaucratic obstacles, it had been proposed that a reserve brigade be created, to be deployed as needed and to provide much-needed flexibility.

Regarding possible contributors of additional troops, he said: "Certainly, if the Council approves, we will be knocking at a lot of doors -- not just existing contingents, either." However, the question was not just about numbers. A mobile force reserve with rapid-reaction capabilities would require special equipment, including air mobility. As for readiness to provide troops, it was to be hoped that a sense of urgency had been conveyed to the world at large and would accelerate the process.

Asked about a possible meeting in Nairobi between the CNDP and the Government, he replied that nothing had been formalized, but Mr. Obasanjo was trying to take the lead in that regard, consulting with a number of regional leaders.

Regarding the zone of separation, he said that, according to plans, it would run east to west some 80 to 100 kilometres north of Goma, the provincial capital. It would be policed and monitored by MONUC. The Mission would also like to see separation zones in other areas where the risk of confrontation was high.

In response to several questions about MONUC's mandate and rules of engagement, he said that while it was a robust Mission, it was still a peacekeeping operation. Meant to implement the peace process agreed in Goma last January, it had encountered practical difficulties when it had to move to "a different posture" as developments on the ground changed from "a classic peacekeeping situation" to peace enforcement, with hostilities taking place on a broader front and the problems of protection becoming ever greater. While MONUC's mandate was quite comprehensive, the issue now was how feasible it was in the current context.

Another aspect of the problem was that the current mandate referred to supporting the national armed forces, but in some areas, those forces had disintegrated. Under those circumstances, the Mission had encountered a new set of problems, but it was not certain that MONUC should or could substitute for the national army, which was not part of its mandate at all. "So whether the Council will want us to take on certain operations on our own, that is for the Council to decide." At the same time it was important to remember that force per se was not a solution to the crisis, and the political and diplomatic tracks must be pursued.

It was also important to have realistic expectations of what the Mission could do, he stressed, adding: "It isn't just about repainting helicopters with camouflage paint." Reinforcements were also needed.

Asked about the presence of foreign armed groups, he said there were various rumours and allegations, including those about Rwandan and Angolan troops having crossed their respective borders with the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Mr. Nkunda had also said that demobilized Rwandan soldiers were possibly involved in the conflict, but there was no direct confirmation of a foreign presence. For that reason, proper operational verification was of great importance, as were the requisite technical capacities to go with it.

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