Following is Secretary-General Kofi Annan's statement to the 24 January Security Council meeting on the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo:
I would like to begin by paying tribute to Secretary of State Albright and Ambassador Holbrooke for their extraordinary efforts in convening yet another in a series of important meetings during the United States' presidency of the Security Council. You are making the world sit up and take greater notice of Africa. That is an accomplishment we must applaud and of which you can be proud.
It is remarkable to see so many African leaders gathered in this chamber. You have travelled long distances in an effort to resolve a conflict that has brought so much suffering to so many people for so long. The political distance still to be travelled is even greater. But that is your responsibility as leaders, and this is your opportunity to serve the African people and enlist international support for peace and stability on the continent.
When war again erupted in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in August 1998, barely a year had elapsed since the end of the country's previous conflict, which itself had followed decades of dictatorship and misrule. In succeeding months, violence intensified. Human rights violations multiplied. Today, millions of people are trying to eke out an existence amid chronic insecurity, economic despair and widespread disregard for international humanitarian law.
Massive numbers of refugees, internally displaced persons and other vulnerable men and women are unsure of shelter or their next meal. The recruitment of child soldiers continues, with thousands serving as combatants. Unaccompanied minors have been reported in large numbers. The entire subregion has been engulfed in a crisis of such complexity that it continues to defy our best efforts to resolve it.
On a long list of needs, wisdom and statesmanship, as well as an understanding of the limits of the use of force, are at the top of the list. In July last year, a mediation effort led by President Chiluba of Zambia on behalf of the Southern Africa Development Community, and with the support of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), resulted in the signing of the Lusaka peace agreement. Since then, however, there have been many ceasefire violations, which have caused fresh suffering. The deployment of United Nations military liaison officers has been obstructed, undermining confidence in the implementation process. The belligerents must do better.
The Lusaka Agreement remains the most viable blueprint for resolving grievances and achieving a comprehensive negotiated solution. But if peace is to take hold, and if international engagement is to be sustained, the warring parties face a paramount challenge: they need to demonstrate the political will to apply the agreement fully, without further delay. All else flows from this essential requirement.
Ultimately, we will only find a sustainable solution to this crisis if we address its root causes. That is why the drafters of the Lusaka Agreement placed inter-Congolese negotiations at the heart of the process. This dialogue is indispensable. The Congolese signatories, with the assistance of the OAU, have taken an encouraging first step in designating Sir Ketumile Masire, former president of Botswana, as the neutral facilitator for these negotiations. His prestige, expertise and moral authority can help reinvigorate the Lusaka process.
The United Nations, for its part, has been actively involved in the search for a peaceful solution since the start of the conflict. We have supported the efforts of President Chiluba and the OAU. We made significant contributions through the missions carried out by my former Special Envoy, Moustapha Niasse. My new Special Representative for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kamel Morjane, will contribute his utmost to the peace process. I also have in the region my Special Representative for the Great Lakes Region, Berhanu Dinka, who will be exploring how the United Nations can help unravel the regional problems that have impeded progress.
And the United Nations mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, MONUC, if given the necessary cooperation and allowed to do its job, can help foster confidence among the parties and keep the peace process on track.
If the United Nations is to make the right kind of difference in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and avoid the wrong turns that have led to tragic consequences elsewhere, we must be ready not only to act, but to act in a way that is commensurate with the gravity of this situation. Whether that means intense political engagement, a sustained commitment of resources or decisive action in the face of unforeseen circumstances, we must see this involvement through.
At the same time, we must guard against creating inflated expectations of what can be realistically expected from the United Nations. And we must never lose sight of our central dependence on the compliance of the parties involved. Whether we are speaking of the political process, military deployments or protection for humanitarian and other United Nations personnel, the parties themselves bear primary responsibility for adhering to commitments and creating the conditions conducive to progress.
Time is of the essence. By their presence here, at today's meeting and tomorrow's "mini-summit", the leaders in this room have a chance to reaffirm their commitment to the Lusaka Agreement. The peace process is fragile. Leadership can strengthen it. Millions of civilians are suffering grievously. Leadership can inspire them and give them hope.
The United Nations is here to help. But the United Nations has also had bitter experience of help gone wrong. This has made Member States profoundly uneasy and raised the threshold of persuasion for new involvements, even when suffering claims our attention and solidarity demands that we act. If this is an illness of our international system, leadership can provide an antidote.
Your challenge is to reach consensus with each other, and transform that consensus into action. This will lay the groundwork for progress on your own. Just as important, it will offer a convincing argument in favour of the international support that Africa merits and which can help bring about a decisive change for the better.