Force for Congo faces money, credibility hurdles
KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — A proposed "neutral international force" to enforce peace in eastern Congo could be hampered by a lack of money and international credibility, officials and analysts said Sunday.
A summit of regional leaders in Uganda Saturday overcame sharp differences to agree on the force's composition.
Tanzania, which is not known for having a muscular military, was the first African country to offer troops, officials said at the end of the latest regional meeting to resolve a diplomatic crisis stemming from allegations that Rwanda backs the so-called M23 rebels in Congo's violence-wracked east.
Kenya, Angola and the Republic of Congo are the only other countries that will contribute to the force, but they have not yet put their offers on the table. Even Tanzania did not say how many troops it was offering. Regional leaders hope that 4,000 troops will be ready to deploy in three months.
The composition of such a force had been the subject of intense negotiations between the 11 countries in east and central Africa forming a bloc called the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, whose multiple meetings over violence in Congo have been praised by the U.N.
A major point of disagreement had been whether Uganda and Rwanda — which both claim to have genuine security interests in Congo — should be allowed to contribute to the force, with Congolese officials saying no. In the end Congo had its way, but without cash and a clear mandate such a force may remain a pipe dream, some say.
Angelo Izama, a political analyst with a Kampala-based security think tank called Fanaka Kwawote, said the regional leaders "were simply going through the motions."
"It's a fiction," Izama said of the proposed force for Congo. "Of those four countries which one has a serious army? We are not talking about peacekeeping here; we are talking about peace enforcement."
But the regional process is supported by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who said Saturday that the summit in Kampala took place "at a critical juncture. I hope that further progress will be made in developing a roadmap of initiatives to address the situation in eastern DRC."
Regional leaders hope that funding for such a force would come from African states themselves as well as the international community. But a similar process to hunt down the notorious rebel leader Joseph Kony has failed to start months after winning the African Union's mandate because it lacks funds for equipment and troops. A joint communiqué released at the end of the Congo crisis meeting in Kampala said the force "should be deployed under the mandate of the African Union and the United Nations."
Officials familiar with this diplomatic effort say that whether or not the force becomes operational, the ongoing meetings have a more practical impact: easing tensions between Rwanda and Congo and inspiring a lull in violence.
The M23 rebels — the latest incarnation of a group of Congolese Tutsi rebels set up to fight Rwandan Hutu rebels in Congo — launched their rebellion earlier this year after accusing the Congolese government of breaking promises made in a March 2009 peace deal that integrated them into the army. Rwanda has dismissed a U.N. report accusing it of actively supporting the rebels, who are allegedly led by Bosco Ntaganda, a renegade general who is wanted for war crimes. The rebels, who now control hills within 30 kilometers (20 miles) of the eastern provincial capital Goma, have since set up parallel administrative structures in the territories they control.
"Right now there is no fighting between M23 and the government. That is good," a Ugandan official who took part in the negotiations said, requesting anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to a reporter.
More than 200,000 villagers in Congo's North Kivu region have been displaced as a result of the M23 rebellion, according to the U.N., which also estimates that the rebellion has sent 57,000 Congolese fleeing into Uganda and Rwanda.
Congo, whose ill-equipped and demoralized army is accused of perpetrating crimes on civilians, already has the largest peacekeeping force in the world, with nearly 20,000 U.N. troops.
For some regional leaders, however, the mandate of U.N peacekeeping mission in Congo has rendered it a failure, and they believe that only an African initiative could bring change in eastern Congo.
"Most of the peacekeepers don't want to fight to die ... Why would somebody from Guatemala or Peru come to die in the jungles of Africa?" said James Mugume, the permanent secretary at Uganda's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. "We must invest in Africa. This is our region."