UN News Centre
While stressing the importance of last year's historic elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the first held there in more than 40 years, two top United Nations officials Monday told the Security Council that continued international involvement is crucial to stability not only in the massive country but for the whole region.
"The DRC is the natural, yet still developing, pole of stability in the troubled region of Central Africa,” said Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guéhenno. “The resolution of the crisis in the DRC will benefit Africa more than solving any other of the continent"s current conflicts.”
At the same time, he warned that the DRC's achievements “will be at risk if the international community, or the Congolese people, repeat some of their past mistakes.”
Mr Guéhenno pointed out that in previous cases where elections were held but the international community pulled out too soon, conflict resumed a few years later, “requiring a new, costlier international intervention.”
He also reiterated to the Council the important role played in the DRC by the European Union, particularly the assistance given during last year's polls by the European Union Force and its help to the UN Mission in the DRC. The elections were the largest and most complex the UN has ever helped organise.
Thanking other member states as well for their assistance, Mr Guéhenno said that the main credit nevertheless must go to the Congolese people and their “desire for change,” although he noted that the electoral process was far from over in the country and also highlighted continuing security concerns in the east.
“MONUC stands ready to support the newly-elected Government as it begins to address the many challenges facing the country,” he said, noting that the transitional agenda must be completed and the Constitution's call for stronger national unity must be carried out.
“The continued engagement of the international community is also required to help the DRC complete a comprehensive electoral process, with local elections due in the second half of this year,” he said, anticipating close cooperation with the European Union and other parties on all these fronts.
Speaking after Mr Guéhenno, the UN's top political officer also praised the 2006 polls, while further echoing the need for continued international assistance to cement the DRC's transition to stability, after a brutal six-year civil war that cost 4 million lives through fighting and attendant hunger and disease.
“Although elections are never an end by themselves, they are, when credible, a critical part of any democratic process. Holding successful and credible elections as we did in the DRC is a testimony to what can be achieved when there is collective effort,” said Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari, noting that the UN's Electoral Assistance Division has been involved with the polling process since 2003.
“These elections have resulted in the establishment of the first democratically elected national institutions in over four decades, and of this we can be justly proud. However, much still remains to be done… the DRC is now in a post-transitional period but this is by no means a post-electoral period.”
Mr Gambari told the 15-member body that the Division would continue to assist MONUC's electoral work for this year's polls, which will involve 13 to 18 months of preparation, as he also underscored the challenges ahead.
“I encourage the members of the Council and other partners such as the EU, the African Union, South Africa and Turkey to continue to provide the generous assistance rendered during the 2006 electoral process.”
Given the logistical challenges in the DRC, a country roughly comparable in size to Western Europe, he said continued support will be “critical.”
Over 10 speakers, including EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, took part in Monday's discussions.
In a related development on the ground, the DRC's first democratically-elected National Assembly in more than 40 years was inaugurated Monday in the capital Kinshasa, a UN spokesman said in New York.
MONUC also says that an investigation team arrived in the eastern province of Ituri on 5 January to look into human rights abuses, including the execution of some 24 civilians near Bunia in late December and the torching of civilian homes near Fataki last week.