Summit ends with no breakthrough on DR Congo-Rwanda forceBy: MAX DELANY
KAMPALA – Regional leaders on Wednesday ended a meeting on a proposed neutral force for eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, with no concrete progress but a pledge to meet in a month, according to a statement.
“We will meet again in four weeks,” summit host Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said at the closing session of the two-day summit.
The meeting was hoped to defuse tensions between Rwanda and DR Congo, which have traded accusations of supporting each other’s rebels.
A statement said the summit had also agreed to set up a committee of regional defence ministers tasked with coming up with “actionable steps to ensure that fighting stops completely.”
The committee, made up of seven of the 11 nations in the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), including Rwanda and DR Congo, will also “provide details on the operationalisation of the neutral international force.”
Defence ministers from Angola, Burundi, Republic of Congo, Uganda and Tanzania will also be on the committee, which was given a month to submit its report to leaders.
The Kampala summit, as well as last week’s meeting of regional defence chiefs in Khartoum, had both been supposed to come up with details of the force.
African Union officials said three weeks ago that the neutral force needed to be up and running in the space of “weeks” rather than months, a prospect that now looks unlikely.
“Leaders are delving deep into complex challenges to come up with a workable plan for a sustainable peace,” Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said in a message on Twitter, just before the meeting ended.
The leaders started meeting as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday warned Rwanda and other countries in the region to cut off support for rebel forces.
“We urge all states of the region, including Rwanda, to work together to cut off support for the rebels M23 and disarm them and to bring their leaders to justice,” Clinton said, speaking in South Africa.
Leaders from Burundi, Tanzania, Kenya and Sudan were also present at the talks in Kampala.
The United Nations was represented by Abou Moussa, special representative for Central Africa, the summit’s organisers said.
Kinshasa charges that Rwanda is arming the M23 mutiny, which has battled regular forces in the eastern DR Congo since April, while Kigali accuses its neighbour of plotting attacks with Rwandan Hutu rebels based in the same region.
A UN report published in June said there was ample evidence that Kigali was actively involved in the M23 rebellion, led by a renegade Congolese general who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. Congolese civil society groups have also accused Uganda of supporting M23, claims denied by Kampala.
Fighting has displaced more than 220 000 people in the region since April, the UN said Tuesday. More than 57 000 others have fled to Rwanda and Uganda.
UN humanitarian affairs chief Valerie Amos is currently in the eastern DR Congo city of Goma, where she is to visit a makeshift camp for the displaced people, before later travelling on to Rwanda.
Experts say the latest turmoil is the result of an ongoing battle for control of the mineral-rich region, in which Rwanda has long been accused of maintaining a stake by using Congolese militias as proxies.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame told AFP in mid-July that both sides had agreed “in principle” to accept a neutral force to restore the peace, but Kigali and Kinshasa hold divergent views on which troops would be neutral.
Even if a compromise is reached, the troops will need to be capable of routing some of the most battle-hardened fighters in the region, be it the M23 or the rebels of the FDLR, the Rwandan Hutu group.