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November 8, 2008

Informative perspective on the DRC crisis

Ulrich Delius is Director of the Africa Desk of the Society for Threatened Peoples in Germany, an international human rights organization dedicated to the promotion of the rights of ethnic and religious minorities. Since joining STP in 1986, he has specialized in ethnic, religious, social and military conflicts in Sudan, including genocide, slavery, and the impact of the oil industry on war and peace in Sudan.

Ulrich Delius: We think it is a very positive development that the British and French foreign secretaries traveled to the region and showed to all participants in this conflict, especially the governments of Rwanda and the Congo, that the EU has a vital interest in stabilizing peace in Central Africa. I think, politically, that is a very important message. Another question is would it be helpful for the EU to send military support to MONUC, the UN mission, or to have a humanitarian mission of its own military forces. This is a completely different point. We are quite reluctant when it comes to such an involvement because we had to analyze it in a practical way. Who might be able to send these soldiers on a very urgent mission to central Africa? It could only be France at the present time, and France has had an extremely difficult relationship with the Rwandan government for a long time due to its implication in its involvement in the genocide in 1994 in Rwanda. So sending French soldiers on behalf of the European Union would incite more problems than it would solve.
Q;There are currently 17,000 UN troops based in the Congo, which is the largest peace keeping force in the world, despite the fact that the Congo has a land area that is roughly the same size as western Europe. Do we need new troops sent in and should they be UN troops?
A. Certainly most experts think that we need new troops and there have been very concrete demands by the former MONUC leader Alan Doss. He presented a list of what he has been looking for months and months and nobody reacted. They only reacted at the last moment when they saw the peace process was collapsing in central Africa. But I think it's not only necessary to discuss new troops, but we also need to discuss the mandate of these troops and why these 17,000 UN peace keepers are unable to protect the civilian population and preserve peace. That's a really important question and nobody on the UN Security Council seems to be talking about this matter.
Q.The EU foreign ministers will gather in Brussels on Monday, November 10th. If sending French troops is such a problem what could they do to battle that?
A. Rebel forces are being led by Laurent Nkunda That would certainly be a positive step to finance more involvement of foreign troops in a MONUC mission. To encourage an open debate in the Security Council about the mandate of these MONUC troops and why they still have been unable to fulfill their mission. And to encourage all of the conflict's parties, especially the governments of the Congo and Rwanda and other African countries who have troops involved, to stick to this peace again there and to fulfill all the promises that were made during the peace conferences that have taken place over the last two years.
Q.Which European governments are considered to be friendly towards the Democratic Republic of Congo and why can't they send soldiers?
A.It's difficult to decide on a European level because we had this discussion in regard to Sudan and the mission there before. We heard about the difficulties of European countries to send any troops and have a larger involvement in the mission to Africa. Most of this is due to technical problems. Many are heavily involved in Iraq, Afghanistan and other peace keeping missions in Europe. We had this discussion for many months in regard to Sudan. European countries have been unable to support the UN there so why should we start this discussion about European involvement in the Congo? Let's focus on more realistic points, specifically putting more pressure on the Rwandan government. Many countries, especially Germany, have a very positive and intensive relationship with Rwanda. So why aren't they using their influence on [Rwandan President Paul Kagame] to push him to stop his support of General Nkunda and why aren't they talking about the inefficiency of the European programs to stabilize the Congo? In 2005 the European Union decided to start the EUSEC mission to improve the security sector in the Congo, especially for the police and the national army. Now the national army is the most prolific violator of human rights in the Congo so we need to talk about why we are spending so much money on these programs which really aren't that efficient.
Q.There talking about Nkunda's troops killing people as well, so can we really just blame the government?
A.No, we shouldn't blame just the government and we shouldn't blame just Nkunda. What we have seen is that over the past few weeks nearly 80 percent of all the human rights violations in the eastern Congo were not committed by rebels, but rather by the regular Congolese army. Just two days ago we got news about an incident where rebels murdered at least 12 civilians, and we have to criticize Nkunda over these killings, that's for sure. However, when we discuss who is responsible for protecting human rights and the civilian populations on both sides we need to ask ourselves what is the Congolese government doing to improve the human rights commitment of its own army and police force? And the answer is nothing.
Q.There was talk a while back about the African Union controlling a force or African countries sending troops into Darfur, why isn't it that the EU is working closer with the AU to try and solve this problem in the Congo?
A.There are certainly many foreign ministries in the European Union which might favor broader involvement of the African Union in the Congo conflict. But on the other hand they're also aware that the Congo conflict is also an African conflict involving many countries, not just the Congo and Rwanda. So many countries are involved militarily or politically in this struggle at the moment. But it's extremely difficult to get the African Union involved as a neutral party, and right now only neutral parties can be effective. Regarding the inefficiency of the African Union and its peace commitment in Darfur, it's really not a good idea to invite the AU to be more involved in the Congo because the Congo conflict is much more complex and much more difficult to solve than the Darfur conflict. They are failing in Darfur and they would be guaranteed to fail in the Congo.

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