KAMPALA - Rwanda and three other nations in the Great Lakes Region have written to the UN requesting for an increased capacity of its peacekeepers in the volatile Democratic Republic of Congo to eliminate negative forces operating there. Foreign Minister Charles Murigande, and his counterparts, Antoinette Batumubwira of Burundi, Mbusa Nyamwisi (DRC) and Uganda’s Sam Kuteesa, wrote a joint letter to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon requesting for a more robust UN force in the Congo.
The four ministers were meeting in the Ugandan Capital Kampala under the Tripartite Plus Joint Commission (TPJC), a regional diplomatic mechanism backed by both the UN and the US.
“We requested the UN Secretary General to consider giving MONUC the necessary mandate, equipment and personnel to be able to decisively deal with the negative forces in collaboration with the Congo Armed Forces,” Murigande told The New Times yesterday.
The decision follows years of discontent among particularly Burundi, Rwanda, and Uganda, who are being targeted by a number of rebel groups which are actively present in eastern DRC despite the deployment of the largest UN force worldwide in the Congo.
The 17000-strong UN force however has no mandate to use force to disarm the various rebel groups and repatriate them to their respective countries.
FDLR major threat
Murigande said that the Kampala TPJC meeting reiterated that the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) – the DRC-based rebels fighting Kigali – remained the leading group threatening regional security.
FDLR is a combination of Hutu militias and former government extremist soldiers who crossed to DRC after executing the 1994 Rwanda Genocide which claimed at least one million people.
The decision by the four neighbouring nations to write to Ki-Moon came at a time Monuc announced that it had deployed 90 percent of its troops to try to flush out FDLR and other negative forces from the eastern DRC, where fresh fighting between the Kinshasa troops and soldiers loyal to dissident General Laurent Nkunda, broke out recently, driving thousands out of their homes.
Monuc head Ambassador William Swing on Sunday said that about 16,000 UN peacekeepers had been deployed in areas occupied by the rebels.
However Murigande said yesterday: “We shall wait to see what is happening on the ground because we have been having that same song for many years.”
Meanwhile, the TPJC meeting once again saw Uganda failing to convince other members to include the names of the alleged leaders of the shadowy People’s Redemption Army (PRA) on the common list of the most wanted persons.
Uganda’s Kutesa said Kampala was asked to gather sufficient intelligence information on PRA’s existence and forward the information to the Tripartite Plus Fusion Cell (TFC) within the next two weeks for further verification.
Kuteesa, who is also the TPJC chairman said that his government had earlier re-submitted its list of most wanted to the TFC but that the latter demanded more details regarding PRA.
“We have deferred the adoption of our list till the next meeting because we have been asked to give more details to the Tripartite Fusion Cell,” Kuteesa told a news conference jointly addressed by the four foreign affairs ministers.
Before member countries agree to blacklist leaders of a negative force, the requesting country must first produce what is called the Order of Battle (OB) showing the command structure, strength and location of the said group.
This, analysts say, is required as a supporting document regarding the existence of the group in question and to facilitate eventual military action against such a group.
In what sources say was a shallow OB on PRA, Kampala had initially blacklisted the main opposition leader Dr Kiiza Besigye as the alleged group’s chairman and commander-in-chief, but critics claim the group is a creation of President Yoweri Museveni’s government as a tool to suppress the opposition.
DRC to enrich Order of Battle
Similarly, the TPJC meeting gave DRC two weeks to complete it’s OB on Nkunda group, and submit it to the TFC for examination. The TFC is based in Kisangani, DRC.
Congo’s Nyamwisi said: “We shall submit the information to the TFC in two weeks.”
“There is no value attached to Nkunda. Go and tell him that it is important for him to join (re-integrate into) the official national army,” he added.
Congo had initially suspended attempts to have Nkunda blacklisted preferring to pursue a negotiated deal with the rebel leader, but efforts to bring both sides to a round table collapsed weeks ago when Congolese forces attacked Nkunda’s troops.
Murigande said Kigali still believed a political solution was the best solution to the standoff between Kinshasa and Nkunda. But he added: “It’s the sovereign decision of Congo to use whatever means it deems appropriate to deal with Nkunda including war if that is what they desire.”
Sources within the Congolese delegation to the Kampala meeting said their government had resorted to blacklisting Nkunda as the final option to end the recent conflict.
Nkunda accuses Kinshasa of working with FDLR, a group which he says have ushered a reign of terror on his Tutsi kin with a mission of exterminating them in the same way they perpetrated the 1994 Genocide.
In a joint statement, the Foreign affairs ministers said all delegates had expressed concern about the deteriorating security conditions in eastern Congo.
Kutesa said the final list of wanted war criminals would be concluded at the next TPJC meeting scheduled for February 2008 in Burundi.
Murigande said Rwanda’s list of most wanted persons which was already approved by the TPJC would wait for the Tripartite Fusion Cell to complete other lists for a common action to be taken at the same time.
Rwanda’s 53 most wanted persons, most of them FDRL rebel leaders, are already on the common list. The ultimate goal is for the four nations to submit the lists to the UN and AU for eventual sanctions against the blacklisted rebel leaders.
Murigande said that Burundi still preferred peace talks with FNL Parpehutu. “They said they were still trying to talk to them.”
He said that Rwanda was not supporting Nkunda as some reports have suggested.
Asked by Congolese journalists why Rwanda had offered to mediate between DRC and Nkunda, Murigande said it was the Congolese government that requested Rwanda earlier this year to help mediate the talks.
“We did not invite ourselves. But you (DR Congo) asked us to help. And now if that is what you call interference then we are disappointed. If you had left us alone we would not have got involved,” he said.
Last week, President Paul Kagame said that mediation was not an area of expertise for Rwanda, but added that his government had always welcomed whoever requested it to contribute to peace efforts through any kind of contribution.
At the request of Kinshasa earlier in the year, Rwanda played mediation role in talks between the Congolese government and Nkunda, resulting in the formation of special mixed army brigades composed of soldiers from both sides. This particular process however seem to have crumbled after Congolese government troops attacked Nkunda’s group.
Murigande said the TPJC members were pursuing all possible avenues to address the problem of negative forces in the region. “For us we actually prefer a combination of diplomatic and political means and military pressure,” he said.
Asked why Kigali was not stopping demobilised Rwandan soldiers from engaging in illegal activities in DRC, Murigande said it was primarily Kinshasa’s responsibility to safeguard its borders and to punish criminal operations within its territory.
“We cannot stop demobilised soldiers from moving within and outside of Rwanda. They are like other ordinary Rwandans. They have been travelling to Belgium, the US, Tanzania, Kenya and other places; and it is their right to move freely. However, it is the responsibility of any country to independently hold anybody accountable for their illegal dealings,” the minister said.
Despite a tense atmosphere that prevailed at the Tripartite Plus meeting, it was agreed that member states still address their problems through other existing diplomatic mechanisms. It was agreed the DR Congo-Rwanda Joint Verification Commission meet on September 21 in Goma, DRC to help ease tension in the eastern Congo.
It was also agreed that Rwanda and Congo start negotiations with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees within two months to prepare for the repatriation of Congolese refugees who are still in Rwanda. Congo and Uganda will equally meet over the same issue.
The ministers also approved the establishment of a Joint Planning Cell (JPC) which was agreed upon during last month’s TPJC chiefs of armed forces’ meeting in Kigali. The cell will be composed of officers in charge of operations and intelligence from all participating countries.
The Kampala ministerial meeting decided that the first JPC be held in Kisangani on September 20.