The delegation of the United Nations Security Council that has just returned from Africa's Great Lakes region described today an improved situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and outlined a number of positive developments indicating movement towards a possible solution to the conflict there.
In introducing the delegation's report, Ambassador Jean-David Levitte of France, who had led the mission, underscored the feeling that there was a true window of opportunity to move towards peace in the DRC, and that throughout the region there was the feeling of wariness and the realization that fighting did not make sense. He stressed that, with respect to last year's Council mission, the atmosphere between the parties and the UN was completely different and more positive.
The mission had achieved results in the military sphere, he said, and there had also been progress in the inter-Congolese dialogue. In the economic field, a number of small quick-impact projects had been announced in areas where MONUC, the UN Mission in the DRC, was deployed, as well as the reopening of the country's river network to humanitarian and commercial traffic. In the area of human rights and humanitarian rights, progress had been made as well.
Ambassador Levitte expressed concern, however, about the impasse in Burundi. The mission had met with the President, political parties and leaders of two armed groups and with former President Mandela, and had told leaders of the two armed groups that there would be no military solution. A deadline would be given to the two groups to return to negotiations, after which Heads of States in the region could decide on what measures to take, he said. To address concerns about the refugee problem, the mission had suggested establishing a Tanzanian/Burundian commission to find practical ways to reduce tension.
During the Security Council's discussions, in which representatives of over 20 countries took part, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the timely and important visit of the Council mission to the region had served to consolidate the recent momentum for peace in the DRC. Highlighting some daunting challenges to the DRC peace process, he noted that current international support for humanitarian work was "unacceptably low," with only 20 per cent of the 2001 appeal for $139.4 million being funded. Mr. Annan also voiced concern at the dire human rights situation, adding: "Without accountability for the most severe crimes, there can be no lasting peace."
The Council mission's report, which was released today at UN Headquarters, concludes that the outlines of a solution appear to be taking shape for the first time since the outbreak of the conflict. Noting the attitude of the Congolese people, the report says that the country appears to be eager for "national reconciliation, democratization and development, with respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in a climate of political plurality."
Nonetheless, the mission, which visited the area from 15 to 26 May, points to a number of serious obstacles. Implementation of the letter and spirit of the Lusaka Agreement will remain difficult in practice as long as the parties view the sequencing of the disengagement and withdrawal of forces subjectively, the report notes. It stresses that the total withdrawal of all foreign forces from Congolese territory and the disarmament, demobilization, reintegration and repatriation of armed groups must be finalized as quickly as possible.