DR Congo

Update on Zaire: call to action

News and Press Release
Originally published
A lot of attention in Washington these days is focussed on Zaire and the present crisis in the Great Lakes Region. There as been a proliferation of meetings but unfortunately the meetings, instead of bringing clarity to the situation, have highlighted its complexity.
Below is a summary of some of the different view points which have emerged on the war, humanitarian needs, and U.S. policy. In spite of the differences there are some convergences. Probably the most important and perhaps the most obvious one is that escalation of the war will benefit no one. The second is that there is still great need for humanitarian assistance.

Before giving the views and analyses, a brief summary of the background of the present situation is given.

1. Background of the Crisis

- Since the Rwanda genocide of 1994, 1.1 million Rwandan refugees have been in Zaire. Mixed with the genuine refugees were Interahamwe, ex-Rwandan soldiers and militia involved in the genocide. The Interahamwe used the camps in Zaire as bases to make intermittent attacks on Rwanda. Tension between Zairian Hutus and Tutsis increased. None of the refugees wanted to return; it was believed the main reason for this was the control of the Interahamwe over the camps.

- In October, after being told they were to be expelled and deprived of their citizenship, a group of ethnic Tutsis called the Banyamulenge who had been living in Zaire for years, staged a rebellion.

- The nature of the rebellion changed rapidly; other dissident Zairian groups joined in; a man from Shaba, Laurent Kabila, emerged as the leader.

- The rebels made many advances; the towns of Bukavu, Uvira and Goma were captured one by one. They continued to make advances towards the north. Several more towns were captured.

- Because of the fighting, refugees were forced to flee their camps; for several weeks they were wandering around the
countryside with no humanitarian assistance reaching them. About 500,000 gathered at Mugunga, a camp near Goma.

- During the capture of Goma, the refugee camp at Mugunga near Goma was shelled. The shelling came from within Rwanda. It was indiscriminate; the result was that the Interahamwe with some of the refugees fled deeper into Zaire but most of the refugees, to avoid the fighting, turned back to Rwanda.

- It was at this point that the involvement of Rwanda in the rebellion became apparent. Opinions vary from Rwanda masterminding the rebellion to Rwanda taking advantage of the rebellion to break the hold of the Interahamwe on the refugees and to drive the Interahamwe from the border so they could no longer attack Rwanda.

- Uganda is also accused of involvement in the rebellion. Museveni and Kabila were together in Tanzania back in the '70s. Uganda insists it entered Zaire only to attack Ugandan rebels who were based in Zaire and were attacking Uganda from Zaire.

- When Mobutu returned to Zaire in December, a new commander-in- chief of the army was appointed. A counteroffensive is being organized. Mercenaries have been brought in.
- Untold numbers of people have already died. Figures are hard to come by because of the inaccessibility of the area.

2. Different Perspectives on the War

- One perspective is that the Banyamulenge were manipulated. The human rights abuses towards some were exaggerated to include all.

(The citizenship question could have arisen because some of the young Banyamulenge fought in the RPF under Kagame. when Kagame took over Rwanda, the Banyamulenge came back to Zaire with their weapons. It could be that they given the expulsion order because, since they fought in the Rwandan army, they were considered by some to be Rwandans.)

- Another perspective is that the rebellion was actually an invasion. It was planned by Rwanda and Uganda to drive out the refugees. In addition to the evidence of the shelling of Mugunga camp, eye-witnesses reported seeing soldiers in RPF uniforms and speaking English at the time of the attack on Goma.

- Still another view is that Rwanda and Uganda support the rebels but they did not engineer the rebellion. At present Uganda's support is limited to its own strategic interests.

Before the shelling of Mugunga, the Interahamwe had been shelling Cyangugu (a town in Rwanda) for some hours. Finally the Rwandans responded with a great deal of force.

- Consensus viewpoint: No one will benefit from an escalation of the war. Efforts must be made to bring all parties together to resolve the crisis.

3. Humanitarian Situation

Large numbers of refugees have returned to Rwanda but large numbers remain. whether it is 500,000 or 100,000 it is still a significant population in dire need. In addition there are an estimated several hundred thousand Zairians displaced by the fighting who are also in dire need of assistance. The latter receive very little media coverage. Moreover, nobody seems willing or able to help the displaced.

The UNHCR cannot; it says its mandate is only for refugees (people who have crossed a border). The government of Zaire will not; in order to reach the displaced, it would have to recognize the rebels. Eye-witnesses report that in the village of Tingi Tingi, where about 100,000 refugees have gathered, the situation is desperate. Relief is just a trickle; the mortality rate is escalating. It has increased from 10 per day to 30 per day. Airlifts are needed but these are being held up by the government of Zaire. If the fighting escalates, the refugees, as well as the displaced Zairians, will get caught in the cross-fire.

4. U.S. Policy

a. Zairians' View Points

To some Zairians, it seems the U.S. has no policy towards Zaire. Previously it backed Mobutu; now it should back civil society. Some Zairians see the war as positive in that deep changes are needed but negative in that it is led by people from the outside. Because of the war, plans for elections are now in question. Many people feel they should now be delayed, but how long will the people wait?

Suggestions as to what the U.S. should do:

- pressure all parties to stop the war
- support a government of national unity
- pressure Uganda and Rwanda not to invade Zaire and to withdraw whatever forces are already there
- pressure Zaire to stop supporting the Interahamwe
- support the decentralization of Zaire
- do not support people using force.

b. View Point of an Analyst

U.S. policy is not clearly thought out or defined. Previous to the crisis in the East, the U.S. favored elections. Supporting elections at this point would put Zaire's future at risk. elections would not bring about stability. A transition period is needed that would require bold international leadership.

What are the options? Two scenarios were suggested:
1) a Bosnia/Haiti scenario - there is a recognition of the threat to international security. There could be a Dayton-type meeting and an international force.

2) a gunboat scenario - negotiations would be set up between Tshisekedi, Kabila and others. Mobutu would resign.

c. State Department's Position

Three key U.S. policy goals for Zaire have evolved over the last year:
1) End the war and the fighting
2) Avert further larger humanitarian crises
3) Assist and promote a transition process in Zaire. Ending the war is the most urgent and a prerequisite for the other two. It has implications for all the surrounding states. For the U.S., the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Zaire are inviolable. But no tenable outcome will be achieved through

What has the U.S. done to implement these goals?
1) There have been diplomatic efforts towards Rwanda and Uganda.
2) Zaire has been urged to refrain from using mercenaries
3) Regional institutions and conferences have been supported
4) The U.S. has appointed a special envoy to pursue the three policy goals.

Another State Department official was of the opinion that the presence of Mohamed Sahnoun, the newly appointed UN/OAU Representative for the region, was an encouraging factor. Sahnoun is a highly respected diplomat. A regional conference involving all parties to the conflict is urgently needed.

5. Conclusions/Strategizing for Action

Much is at stake here. Rather than make judgments on who is right and who is wrong, it seems better to look at the underlying causes of the fighting and see if there is a way they can be dealt with. The proximate cause is no doubt the tensions that were raised during the two years that the 1.1 million Rwandan refugees were living in Zaire. It was a situation that could not last. It may have been beneficial to Mobutu because of the aid flowing into the country for the refugees. But it was not good for the local population; both the local economy and the environment were adversely affected by the refugees. Nor was it good for Rwanda; the Interahamwe were continuing the war from Zaire. Moreover, the refugees were needed in Rwanda to help rebuild the country. It is not surprising that the situation finally exploded, no matter what the reason. But a more underlying cause of the present crisis is the lack of justice and unequal distribution of resources. before the genocide, Rwanda was one of the poorest, most over-populated countries in the world. Ending the genocide has not solved the problem of unequal sharing of resources. Until that is resolved, there will be tension.

Having said all this, what can we do? Suggestions are:

- to lobby for the U.S. government to use its influence and leadership to stop the conflict from escalating. The war will not settle anything and it will be a drain on the already scarce resources. The terrible suffering will continue.
- to ask the U.S. government to strongly support the regional initiatives for peace. African nations also want a conference which involves all parties to the conflict. Let them take the lead and let the U.S. put all its weight behind the conference.

- to ask the U.S. and the UN to make the necessary investment of funds to ensure that the people in need are receiving humanitarian assistance. Because some of the remaining refugees are still under the control of the Interahamwe, there will be difficulties. But the difficulties are not insurmountable. What has been accomplished in Bosnia was just as difficult and far more costly than what is required for Zaire. All of these are within the goals the U.S. has set for Zaire; it might be well to mention that in our letters. As well as continuing to write letters to Congress, the Administration and the UN, we need to try to refocus media attention on the situation. Op-ed articles, letters or articles to your local newspapers, including Catholic newspapers, are needed.

Presiden Bill Clinton
The White House
Washington DC 20500
e-mail: president @whitehouse.gov
Comment line: 202 456 1111 Fax: 202 456 2461

Hon. Madeleine Albright
Secretary of State
Department of State
2201 C St. NW 20520
Phone: 202 647 5298 Fax: 202 647 6434

Representative __________
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington DC 20515

Senator _________
U.S. Senate
Washington DC 20510

U.S. Capitol Switchboard: 202 224 3121