DRCongo, Rwanda leaders meet on neutral force
8/7/2012 6:40:02 PM -
KAMPALA (AFP) - The presidents of Rwanda and DR Congo began Tuesday talks with regional leaders aiming to tackle a recent wave of unrest in eastern DR Congo and to set up a force to neutralise rebel groups there.
The meeting began as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Rwanda and other regional nations to cut off support for rebel forces.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni is hosting the two-day summit of the 11-member International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), aimed to defuse mounting tensions between Rwanda and DR Congo, who have traded accusations of supporting each other's rebels.
Rwanda's Paul Kagame and his DR Congo counterpart Joseph Kabila began talks late Tuesday, several hours behind schedule, at a lakeside resort outside Kampala.
As the Kampala meeting started Clinton, speaking in the South African capital Pretoria, urged Rwanda to help disarm the M23 rebel group and quit supporting it.
"We urge all states of the region, including Rwanda, to work together to cut off support for the rebels M23 and disarm them and to bring their leaders to justice," Clinton said, after talks with her South African counterpart.
Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza, Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, Kenyan Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka and Sudanese Vice President Adam Youssef were also present in Kampala at the talks, as well as Museveni.
The UN is represented by Abou Moussa, special representative for Central Africa, the organisers of the summit said.
Kinshasa charges that Rwanda is arming the M-23 mutiny which has battled regular forces in the eastern DR Congo since April, while Kigali accuses its neighbour of plotting attacks with Rwandan Hutu rebels based in the same region.
A UN report published in June said there was ample evidence that Kigali was actively involved in the M23 rebellion, led by a renegade Congolese general who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.
Congolese civil society groups have also accused Kampala of supporting M23, claims denied by Uganda.
Fighting has displaced more than 220,000 people in the province since April, the UN said Tuesday. More than 57,000 others have fled to Rwanda and Uganda.
Experts say the latest turmoil is the result of an ongoing battle for control of the mineral-rich region, in which Rwanda has long been accused of maintaining a stake by using Congolese militias as proxies.
Kagame told AFP in mid-July that both sides had agreed "in principle" to accept a neutral force.
A meeting of regional defence ministers held in Khartoum last week was supposed to hammer out some of the details of the force, as Kigali and Kinshasa hold divergent views of which troops would be neutral.
Kinshasa has said it favours using MONUSCO, the 19,000-strong UN stabilisation force deployed in the DR Congo.
Kigali, while it has not issued any outright public refusal of MONUSCO, argues that the UN force is anything but neutral.
Regional foreign ministers, who held preparatory meetings behind closed doors Monday, discussed at least three types of force, according to documents available at the venue.
One option would see the region's states contribute troops and funds. The African Union has said it is ready to contribute to such a force.
A second option is "an international and regional force incorporated into MONUSCO", including a beefed up mandate as MONUSCO's current mandate is limited to the protection of civilians.
A third idea is an "interim MONUSCO force" but the document did not specify if this would be in addition to the "international and regional force."
Even if a compromise is reached, the troops still need to be capable of routing some of the most battle-hardened fighters in the region, be it the M-23 or the FDLR rebels, a Rwandan Hutu group.
The 11-nation ICGLR comprises Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania and Zambia.