DR Congo

UN Council moves closer to sending force to Congo

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By Evelyn Leopold
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 3 (Reuters) - Security Council members condemned reports of massacres in the Congo and began work on a resolution, expected to be introduced next week, that would authorize a U.N. force to monitor a cease-fire in the country's 17-month civil war.

"Members of the council expressed their deep concern over reports of recent massacres in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and expressed their condemnation for all human rights abuses," Council President Arnoldo Listre of Argentina said after a Thursday meeting.

The Christian Blind Mission aid group recently released a video showing hundreds of people killed in early January in Bunia, near Uganda. The clashes between the Lendu and Hema communities are in a northeast region under rebel control.

Listre also said members expressed "general support" for Secretary-General Kofi Annan's call for U.N. monitors in the Congo, a reference to negotiations over a U.S.-drafted resolution, diplomats expect to be introduced next week but not approved until the end of the month.

Annan has recommended 500 cease-fire monitors and 5,537 troops to protect them that will including infantry, medical communications, mine clearance and transportation experts for a nearly roadless country. The monitoring operation is still a far cry from a full-fledged peacekeeping force.

Congo's civil war has drawn troops from Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia in support of the government of President Laurent Kabila's against rebels backed by Uganda and Rwanda.

The governments involved signed an accord in Lusaka, Zambia, in July 1999 and rebel leaders joined the agreement in August. But fighting has continued in the war, which has cost thousands of lives, and uprooted about 1 million people.

They governments are to meet again in Lusaka on February 13 to set a timetable for aspects of the peace plan, which is expected to figure in the text of the resolution.

After extraordinary meetings of seven African presidents in New York last month, arranged by U.S. ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the United States would be hard-pressed to turn down an initial U.N. force.

APPROVAL OF U.S. CONGRESS NEEDED FIRST

The current plan is for Holbrooke to introduce a resolution sometime next week, shortly after he notifies reluctant Republican Congressional leaders of its contents.

The Clinton administration has agreed to give Congress 15 days notice of council resolutions creating peacekeeping operations, for which the United States is billed 30 percent.

On Wednesday, Sen. Russ Feingold, a Democrat, urged his colleagues to support the U.N. force. "Our interests in global peace and stability, the rule of law, and respect for basic human rights are in part bound up in Congo's future," he said.

The Wisconsin senator, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is the senior Democrat on its Africa sub-committee. But John Warner, the Virginia Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Service Committee, said the United Nations was stretched far too thin in Kosovo and East Timor to start another venture in Africa.

One issue under discussion is whether conditions would be attached for deployment of the force, exactly what it would do and security guarantees for its safety.

AUTHORIZATION MAY NOT MEAN DEPLOYMENT

"Will everyone accept why the U.N. force is going there," one council envoy said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"It is not an interposition force to be used by one side or the other to drive out their respective enemies. Will there be an internal political dialogue?"

But African nations, such as Namibia, argue that the longer the United Nations waits for all guns to fall silent, the more chance there is for a full-scale war to resume.

An early draft of a U.S. paper says deployment of the force would be subject to progress in implementing the peace pact as well as "security conditions on the ground, and the determination of the secretary-general that the necessary climate of security, access and cooperation exists."

Above all the United States is worried that the United Nations would slip into a larger operation and still not be able to keep the peace. France has pressed for far more troops, saying the Congo was too large for a token force.

Others recall the first U.N. venture into the Congo in the early 1960s that brought the world body close to political collapse and cost the life of Dag Hammarskjold, its second secretary general, in an air crash on his way to peace talks.

Some 20,000 foreign troops intervened after the Congo became independent from Belgium, which had done little to build local institutions or educational facilities.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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