Southern African News Features                                           SANF 12 No 41 , December 2012

SADC takes action on the conflict in eastern DRC

The conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is a setback to regional integration and development, impacting on all countries southern Africa.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) has strongly condemned the deteriorating security situation, including the invasion and capture of Goma on 20 November by anti-government rebels.

SADC demanded the immediate withdrawal of the rebels from Goma and the cessation of hostilities, and called for peaceful and durable resolution of the conflict, saying it can be resolved through collective dialogue. 

The SADC Organ Troika met in September in Dar es Salaam, following the visit to Rwanda by the SADC Chairperson, President Armando Guebuza of Mozambique, who had been mandated by the SADC Summit in August to engage the government of Rwanda, and did so immediately.

The Troika welcomed his swift action and his report, and endorsed his recommendations.

The Organ Troika Summit was attended by the Presidents of Tanzania, Mozambique and Namibia, as well as DRC, the defence minister of South Africa, and SADC Executive Secretary.    

They reaffirmed commitment to the decisions of the full SADC Summit in August, and requested the Executive Secretary to work with his counterpart at the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR).  

At their Summit in Maputo in August, SADC leaders noted with “great concern” the deterioration in the security situation in the eastern DRC during the previous three months, causing displacement of people and loss of lives and property.

Summit noted that “this is being perpetrated by rebel groups with assistance of Rwanda” and urged Rwanda to cease immediately its interference “that constitutes a threat to peace and stability, not only of the DRC, but also of the SADC region.”

They agreed that this situation called for renewed and urgent attention by Summit which had fielded an assessment mission to DRC, a member state, and they mandated the SADC Chairperson to engage the Government of Rwanda with the aim of urging Rwanda to stop military support to the armed rebels in the DRC.

Summit urged member states and the international community to provide humanitarian relief to the displaced people in the eastern DRC, and directed the SADC Secretariat to collaborate with the ICGLR Secretariat in pursuit of peace and security.

Leaders in the Great Lakes Region also directed the rebels to withdraw from Goma and stop all war activities, and resolved that a composite force comprising one neutral force, DRC military and national police should be deployed to Goma.

Among those present at the ICGLR summit was President Jakaya Kikwete of the United Republic of Tanzania, who current chairs the SADC Troika on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation.

SADC member states who are part of the ICGLR are Angola, DRC, Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia. Other members are Burundi, Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda.

The summit expressed gratitude to South Africa which offered to provide logistical support to the Neutral International Force that would help to keep peace in eastern DRC, and Tanzania which offered to provide a Force Commander for the Neutral International Force. Other contributors to the force were not announced at that time.

The rebels launched a rebellion against DRC President Joseph Kabila’s government in April 2012, and recently threatened to march on Kinshasa, the faraway capital of the vast, mineral-rich country. 

They call themselves the March 23 (M23) movement as that is the date on which they had agreed to lay down arms and be integrated into the national army, before deserting and claiming their conditions had not been met.

President Paul Kagame has denied accusations by the DRC, SADC and other African leaders, and a UN panel of experts, that Rwanda is providing military support to the rebels. Uganda has also denied supporting the rebels.

The UN Security Council demanded the withdrawal of M23 rebels from Goma, and condemned their human rights abuses, including summary executions, gender-based violence, and largescale recruitment of child soldiers.  UN Resolution 2076 imposed targeted sanctions on members of the leadership, but no arms embargo.

In one of the strongest signals to Rwanda, however, their major donor, the United Kingdom, announced it was withholding almost US$34 million in aid, following a confusion in which aid was suspended in July and reinstated in September.

The international development secretary said the government had “already set out its concerns over credible and compelling reports of Rwandan involvement with M23 in DRC.”

Kabila has dismissed negotiations with M23, saying the DRC would only talk to Rwanda.

Kabila and his Rwandan and Ugandan counterparts, Presidents Kagame and Museveni, met in Uganda for talks the day after the capture of Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu province close to the Rwandan border.

Their joint statement on 21 November said that, “in solidarity with the Congolese people and their counterpart”, Museveni and Kagame had condemned both the expansion of the war and “the idea of overthrowing the legitimate government of DRC or undermining its authority.”

They said they would communicate with the rebels to stop their offensive and pull out of Goma. Kabila made a commitment that DRC would look into “the causes of discontent and address them as best it can.”

The three leaders agreed that “a comprehensive and operational plan geared towards lasting peace and stability will be drawn up as a matter of urgency.”

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