A neutral international force will be set up to hunt down armed groups in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), regional leaders agreed yesterday.
The Heads of State and Government summit of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) held in Kampala from August 7-8 established a subcommittee composed of defence ministers from seven member states tasked to provide details on the operationalization of the force.
The subcommittee was mandated to propose “urgent actionable steps to ensure that fighting stops completely to allow for consolidation of peace, security and stability,” reads part of a statement issued at the end of the two-day summit.
The subcommittee is made up of ministers of defence from Angola, Burundi, DRC, Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. Members of the team, chaired by Uganda’s defence minister, are expected to meet in the eastern Congolese town of Goma next week, according to sources. The team has just weeks to submit an interim report to the ICGLR Chairperson, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, before delivering the final report in four weeks at another Heads of State summit in Kampala.
Presidents Paul Kagame, Jakaya Kikwete (Tanzania), Pierre Nkurunziza (Burundi) and Joseph Kabila of DRC attended the summit hosted by President Museveni. The other six member states, namely Angola, Central African Republic, Congo (Brazzaville), Kenya and Zambia were represented by high-level government officials.
The leaders also committed to undertake “vigorous efforts with a view to ensure that there is a complete halt to fighting in eastern DRC; without excluding the possibility of sanctions against those who obstruct the peace process”.
Congolese army is fighting against the M-23 rebels who mutinied in April over a failed 2009 peace deal.
Eastern DRC is also home to several militia groups, the most notoriuos being the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), who are largely blamed for the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.
The Heads of State summit also set up a Trust Fund to support victims of the humanitarian crisis in eastern DRC and neighbouring countries, and urged ICGLR member states and other partners to contribute to the Fund. Uganda contributed US$1,000,000.
The crisis has since driven hundreds of thousands out of their homes with many crossing into Rwanda and Uganda.
The presidents called on the international community to provide humanitarian assistance to the victims of the conflict and ensure that access of humanitarian aid to the victims is not obstructed.
Rwanda’s Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo explained that the meeting had showed a “very strong determination” to ensure a complete halt to the fighting in Eastern DRC.
“They (Ministers of Defence) were given two weeks to come up with intelligence, information, numbers, and with contingence plans. I think, in Rwanda’s opinion, this Kampala meeting signals the beginning of a solution (to the crisis),” Mushikiwabo said.
She emphasised there was need to find both a regional military and political solution, without necessarily excluding international players.
“We need, as a region, to better understand this conflict before we send in troops,” she said.
Kenya’s Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka who represented President Mwai Kibaki at the meeting said that by directly involving Ministers of Defence at this stage, the DRC conflict will soon come to an end.
“This is definitely a very positive step because the responsibility now falls with the Ministers of Defence of the mentioned countries. If you now looked at Ministers of Defence, as opposed to Ministers of Foreign Affairs, you really see that the Conference (ICGLR) is taking a very serious direction,” he said.
The United Nations, which maintains a 20,000-strong peacekeeping force in eastern DRC, was represented by Abou Moussa, the UN Secretary General’s special representative for Central Africa, while the Africa Union is represented by the AU chairperson’s special representative to Lord’s Resistance Army-affected areas, Francisco Madeira.
LRA is a Ugandan rebel outfit which has been operating across various Central African states in the recent years.