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Uganda: IRIN Interview with Minister Amama Mbabazi

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NAIROBI, 17 March (IRIN) - The following is an interview held in Nairobi this week with Amama Mbabazi, Ugandan Minister of State for Foreign Affairs in charge of regional cooperation. He is also chairman of the regional political committee charged with overseeing implementation of the Lusaka peace agreement for the DRC.
Q. Why has the implementation of the Lusaka agreement dragged on despite a recent deadline of 1 March?

A. I think it is important to put everything in context since the signing of the Lusaka agreement last year. The Joint Military Commission (JMC) was tasked with the responsibility of drawing up a plan for cessation of hostilities and disengagement of forces on the ground, until the UN force is deployed. For the JMC to achieve this, we needed resources. But the response of the international community has been lukewarm in the least, that is why there are violations of the ceasefire. I believe that all the parties are committed to the peace process. Even those that would not be fully committed have no choice because the main players are committed to Lusaka.

All the heads of state that attended the last regional summit in Lusaka [in February] were in New York at a UN Security Council meeting at the end of January. After New York, we got a distinct impression that the United Nations and the international community in general were ready to come in this time and support the region. So the regional heads of state adopted the 1 March deadline on the assumption that there would be resources to facilitate the ceasefire on the ground. The deployment of [JMC] observers to different locations in the DRC has not taken off because of resource constraints.

Q. Is the 5,500 UN military observer force enough to ensure the implementation of the ceasefire agreement?

A. It is important to note that this is only phase two of UN deployment in the Congo. Phase one involved sending 90 liaison officers. My understanding is that the role of 500 observers and four battalions to protect them is to prepare for greater UN involvement. But some people think that the 5,500 UN observers and their protectors is the final phase of UN deployment, which is not the case. Their role is to find out the magnitude of the challenges ahead and make ecommendations to relevant authorities. So to the extent of their limited role, I think they should be adequate.

Q. What is the relationship between the JMC and MONUC [the UN Observer Mission]?

A. We agreed in principle on a joint structure between MONUC and JMC. What is remaining is to work out the details of how to work together.

Q. Are there any plans regarding the demobilisation of forces to be disarmed under the Lusaka peace agreement?

A. The JMC and MONUC are mandated to work out details on the disarmament of the negative forces and present their proposals to the leadership of the region and the international community for consideration. At the moment there is no concrete proposal.

Q. What is the status of the relationship between Uganda and Rwanda, after the fighting in Kisangani [DRC] last year?

A. Obviously the fighting in Kisangani affected our relationship, that is a fact. But in my opinion it did not affect the relationship in such a fundamental way that we cannot develop a common position on Congo. I don't think so. The fact we have been holding meetings with Rwanda to discuss regional matters is enough evidence to show that we are still working together to achieve peace in Congo and the whole region.

One of the projects we are working on with Rwanda is to unite the three Congolese rebel groups, and a number of outstanding issues have been sorted out. However other issues are yet to be sorted out. I think that if we cannot move the rebels to unite, then we have to re-consider the whole strategy. I don't see why the rebels should not work together to achieve peace. The purpose of uniting the rebels is to support the national dialogue in the DRC.

Q. If Lusaka fails, what will be Uganda's next move?

A. First of all, we hope Lusaka will work because we support the ceasefire agreement fully, and we shall do everything required of us to make it work. But should it not work, then of course we have to look at other alternatives.

Q. What alternatives?

A. We shall first look at reasons why Lusaka did not work, and maybe harmonise our positions to make it work. All I can say is that Uganda's fundamental interest in Congo is security, which we have to handle because it is our duty. As long as there is a threat emanating from Congo, we are duty bound to address the threat, even if it requires us to have forces in Congo to do so.

Q. What is Uganda's role in the ethnic clashes in Ituri [northeastern DRC], that have left many people dead?

A. First of all we should not be blamed in any way because Uganda is not responsible for the administration of any territory in Congo. The Lusaka agreement recognised the Congolese parties' responsibility to administer areas under their control at the time of signing the agreement.

But nevertheless, it is true that this is an area under the jurisdiction of the UPDF [Ugandan army] and when the inter-community strife developed, we deployed forces to stop it. Unfortunately by the time they arrived, a few lives had been lost. But the situation is now under control and the killings have been stopped. We are encouraging dialogue so that both groups can live together harmony.

Q. Has the presence of Uganda's army in Congo, helped in the war against the ADF [Allied Democratic Forces] rebels?

A. We have achieved 100 percent results, because Sudan can no longer supply the ADF through Congo. In fact Sudan had brought a whole infantry brigade into northern Congo, but they have been beaten off. To the extent that we cut off ADF supply lines from Sudan, it [the UPDF operation] has been a success. Of course they are still active on the western border, carrying out hit and run attacks by hiding in the mountains. Surely, with time, they will be eliminated because their rear [base] has been cut off. It is now [DRC President] Kabila who is supplying them, but we are trying to figure out how to handle that.

Q. Is Uganda trying in any way to normalise relations with the DRC at state level?

A. We have not broken diplomatic relations, that is why they have their embassy and their diplomats in Kampala. They invaded and occupied our diplomatic mission in Kinshasa and violated all norms of diplomacy. We have been concentrating on restoring peace in Congo. The only relationship with the Congolese government is that we are partners in the Lusaka peace process and we shall work together to promote that. If it fails, of course that is a different story.

Q. When is the next meeting of the political committee?

A. I was hoping to call it next week, after consulting other members, but it will take place. We have a backlog of pending work, the JMC has made some reports which need adoption after policy decisions and bits of stuff to finalise.

Q. Is the political committee under the chairmanship of Uganda alone?

A. Uganda was elected chairman of the political committee and Zimbabwe alternate chairman at the first meeting and we have been operating under this arrangement so far. There are proposals about new rules of procedure which will be discussed at next week's meeting. When Uganda is in the chair Zimbabwe deputises and vice versa. This arrangement worked well during the Lusaka negotiations.

[ENDS]

[IRIN-CEA: Tel: +254 2 622147 Fax: +254 2 622129 e-mail: irin-cea@ocha.unon.org ]

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