The United Nations’ interventions in eastern DR Congo should “strengthen rather than complicate and overlap” peace efforts initiated by the Great Lakes region, Kenya’s president said yesterday.
Uhuru Kenyatta was speaking at the opening of the sixth extraordinary summit of Heads of State and Government from the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), a bloc of 12 countries spearheading a homegrown peace bid for DR Congo, in the Kenyan capital Nairobi.
He was referring to recent UN-spearheaded initiatives including the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for DR Congo and the region, signed in February by eleven regional countries and four guarantors, and the ongoing deployment of a 3000-strong force with a more assertive mandate within the UN mission in the Congo, Monusco, the world’s largest and most expensive UN operation.
The Kenya stance
“We hope that it (the Framework) will avail an additional avenue in the search for lasting peace in the region. Kenya, however, advises that this additional framework and its initiatives complement and strengthen, rather that complicate and overlap ICGLR initiatives,” Uhuru said.
“I find it important to make this point because we urgently need all hands on deck, for effective deployment to avoid wastage of much needed initiatives and resources through duplication.”
He said to enable member states own conflict resolution and peace-building efforts in the region, Kenya believes that ICGLR’s regional initiatives require regional full support.
The Kenyan leader said his country welcomed recommendations by the ICGLR’s ministers of defence and foreign affairs as well as chiefs of intelligence during an earlier technical meeting, which included a call for the establishment of the Joint Intelligence Fusion Centre as part of efforts to achieve peace in the Great Lakes region.
The centre would help spearhead expeditious implementation of the ICGLR Protocol on Non-Aggression and Mutual Defence, he said, urging member countries to support the initiative.
Kenya supports the focus on seeking political solutions to security problems in the region and deeply appreciates the efforts made by the Heads of State and Governments of the ICGLR, Uhuru added.
Over the past year the regional bloc, under its current chairperson, President Museveni of Uganda, has held several high-level meetings and came up with initiatives, including the now-stalled Kampala peace talks between the Congolese government and the M23 rebels, to help return peace to the perpetually restive eastern DR Congo.
However, while Ugandan mediators say progress had been made in the early stages of the peace talks, recent developments on the ground have thrown the negotiations into uncertainty.
Speaking from Nairobi, President Museveni, who chaired the meeting, also attended by the President of Central African Republic Michel Am-Nondokro Djotodia, and the UN special envoy to the Great Lakes region, Mary Robinson, urged support for the talks, which he said had potential to help deliver sustainable peace.
Tensions have escalated in recent weeks, with occasional bouts of clashes between the M23 rebels and the Congolese army, which, according to Kigali and independent sources, has in recent days increased collaboration with FDLR, the militia largely blamed for the slaughter of a million people during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.
The situation also appears to have further strained relations between Rwanda and DR Congo with either side blaming the other of supporting elements opposed to their governments.
In particular, Kigali denounced what it described as “provocative and deliberate act by FARDC and Monusco” after two mortar bombs hit Rwandan villages from areas under the control of the Congolese army and the UN peacekeepers last month.
Yesterday’s regional summit came just hours after Monusco gave a 48-hour ultimatum to armed elements that are not part of the regular army within close proximity of the strategic eastern city of Goma to disarm.
By press time, it was not clear what measures Monusco would take after the deadline passes at 4pm today without the armed groups operating within an area the peacekeepers have identified as ‘peace zone’ laying down their weapons.
But M23, widely seen as the primary target of the UN peacekeepers’ planned operations, interpreted the ultimatum as an excuse for the blue helmets to attack the group.
The rebels, who include soldiers who mutinied last year accusing Kinshasa of breaching a 2009 peace deal that had integrated members of a former rebel group, have warned that they will return UN fire with fire.
Observers say the proposal to set up an ICGLR Joint Intelligence Fusion Centre would complement other existing regional mechanisms, including the Expanded Joint Verification Mechanism, a team composed of military experts from all the member states, based in Goma.
A similar arrangement existed previously among DR Congo, Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi under what used to be known as Tripartite-Plus Joint Commission that sought to build confidence among participating countries.