afrol.com, 30 March - The United Nations peacekeepers yesterday officially began their mission in Congo Kinshasa (DRC), as the first UN contingent arrived and started deploying in the country. The deployment comes after foreign troops on Congolese soil had completed the "disengagement process" (pullback) that began two weeks ago.
A contingent of 110 Uruguayan peacekeepers yesterday landed in the eastern town of Goma, where a cheering crowd welcomed them. 50 of these peacekeepers have flown on to the UN base in Kalemie at the shores of Lake Tanganyika. The peacekeeping mission continues and reinforces the work of the UN observers that so far have operated in Congo Kinshasa.
The UN peace operation in Congo Kinshasa "started to verify frontlines to make sure that the parties to the conflict have pulled back their forces in accordance with the agreements reached in 2001," according to UN sources. Government troops, rebels and Zimbabwean, Angolan, Namibian, Rwandan and Ugandan troops were supposed to have pulled back 15 km from the frontline by yesterday, in accordance with the 1999 Lusaka peace agreement.
The UN peacekeeping mission, called MONUC, has so far verified the withdrawal of Rwandan forces and the rebel Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD-Goma) from the eastern town of Pweto, where troops from the Government of the DRC are also said to be staying away. MONUC also reports substantial Rwandan and RCD withdrawal from Kabinda, while the Kinshasa government claims to have withdrawn across the Ubangui River in the north.
The UN Mission has not yet observed a withdrawal of Government and allied forces from Kananga, in the south-central province of Kasai, however. Meanwhile the rebel Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC) has attached conditions to the withdrawal of its forces, asking for UN forces to move into territories that the rebels vacate to protect civilians there and also seeking progress in the inter-Congolese dialogue.
Major-General Mountanga Diallo, head of UN peacekeepers, acknowledged that it could seem that all parties still had not complied with the conditions for a UN troop deployment. However, he said he was optimistic that they would eventually comply. "They'll pull back. I cannot imagine they will not withdraw," said Diallo.
A UN spokesman told the press today in New York that "the UN Mission is now proceeding with its verification efforts, and the Security Council expects to receive a briefing from the Secretariat tomorrow on the latest developments in the DRC, including the withdrawals."
According to MONUC chief Kamel Morjane, 56 days will be required to verify withdrawal from all sectors, following which the operation will present a plan to the Security Council for disarming the factions. That disarmament is "crucial," Mr. Morjane said, because Rwanda will not withdraw without assurances that certain groups, such as the Interahamwe and FAR (former Rwandan state army), as well as other foreign presences, will not operate from DRC territory to destabilize Rwanda.
The UN is to deploy 3,000 troops to monitor the withdrawals, and the Uruguayan troop contingent is only the first to arrive in Congo Kinshasa. Next month, they will be joined by a contingent of soldiers from Senegal. The warring parties have until the end of May to hand in plans for their complete withdrawal.
The Congolese peace process was initiated through the 1999 Lusaka peace agreement, which however never was implemented under late Congolese President Laurent Kabila. After his assassination, when his son Joseph Kabila became president in Kinshasa, the peace process came back on track.
Rwanda and Uganda, fighting the Kinshasa government, agreed to fulfil the conditions of the Lusaka agreement, namely by withdrawing their troops 15 kilometres from the frontline. Rwandan and Ugandan leaders attribute their new acts of trust to the "positive attitude" of the new Congolese president. Rwandan President Paul Kagame even informed the UN that his country's troops would be withdrawing 200 kilometres from Pweto in the direction of their own country.
Sources: Based on UN sources and afrol archives