As the international community welcomed the inauguration of a new power-sharing government in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), top United Nations officials told the Security Council today that immense challenges remain as the volatile, war-torn central African country edges toward peace and reconciliation.
Twenty-eight speakers, including the European Union's (EU) Foreign Policy chief, took the floor during the Council's public meeting on international efforts to jump-start the democratic process critical to peace and development in the DRC and the wider Great Lakes region. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan also attended the debate.
Jean-Marie Guéhenno, Under Secretary-General for UN Peacekeeping Operations, opened the Council's discussion by focusing on the situation in Bunia, the resource-rich town in the DRC's battle-scarred Ituri district, and the site of a weeks-long deadly turf war between rival ethnic militias.
Describing the current situation as "calm but tense," he said that despite encouraging initial steps toward normalizing life in Bunia, many challenges lie ahead. He appealed to the international community to increase its efforts to assist the Ituri Interim Administration to restore basic services in the district.
"Above all, the most difficult task will be to end the pervasive culture of war and impunity," Mr. Guéhenno said. With a new mandate for the UN Organization Mission in the DRC (MONUC) under consideration by the Council, in light of the 1 September departure of the Interim Multinational Force, it was crucial to maintain the robust character of the troops stationed there in order to dissuade further military action in Bunia.
The former Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the DRC, Amos Namanga Ngongi, said that Mr. Guéhenno had rightly focused on Ituri, which did not need just a short-term deployment of troops. He was encouraged by the Council's intention, through the speedy adoption of a new text, to deploy a robust force to Ituri, with an appropriate mandate. With massive human rights abuses the main driving force for such deployments, he urged that that factor not be overlooked in the case of this country.
Mr. Ngongi also said it was with great relief and great pleasure that yesterday several former opposition leaders were formerly sworn in to posts in the New Government of National Unity in the capital, Kinshasa. That was a decisive moment in the four year-old peace process. "However, the road to peace and reconciliation does not stop here," he said, stressing that the formation of a transitional authority was only "the beginning of a new chapter" for the DRC and that "immense challenges remained."
"With the establishment of the Government of National Unity in Kinshasa, a window of opportunity had been opened for the [DRC] and the region as a whole," said Javier Solana, the EU's Secretary-General and High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, who announced a €205 million (euro) strategic support programme aimed at funding reconstruction and rehabilitation during the DRC's coming transition period.
Mr. Solana, just back from the Great Lakes region, highlighted the success of an EU-backed multinational force recently deployed in Bunia. "That operation, a first for the Union, which had never before sent military units outside of Europe, succeeded in stopping the massacres in Bunia and had helped to relaunch the stalled peace process in Kinshasa," he said. "We must preserve what the European Union force has achieved." He also stressed that it was it was essential that a reinforced MONUC presence be deployed in Bunia within the planned timeframe, with a mandate and rules of engagement similar to those of the Interim Force.
Ambassador Atoki Ileka of the DRC said hope had emerged, but concerns still existed. He urged the Council to adapt the mandate of the MONUC to allow it to transform itself into a vast multidisciplinary peacekeeping operation functioning across the entire national territory. The Interim Force had stabilized the security and emergency situation in Bunia, but that achievement would be futile if the Bangladesh contingent, which had recently begun its deployment, did not have a similar mandate and rules of engagement, as well as an overall strategy aimed at peace in the Ituri district.