Top UN official signals improvement tough challenges in eastern DR Congo

Alan Doss, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the DRC, told the Security Council today that the “remarkable turnaround” came when the mainly Tutsi rebel militia, known as the National Congress for People’s Defence (CNDP), and other armed groups declared an end to the violent conflict which had displaced some 250,000 people last year in the volatile North and South Kivu provinces. Last month, the Government and the CNDP signed a peace accord, with the UN and African Union (AU) envoys who facilitated that deal calling today on the international community to continue its support of efforts to consolidate peace and promote development.In his briefing to the Council today, Mr. Doss also attributed the easing of hostilities in the region to improved relations between the DRC and neighbouring Rwanda, commending the two Governments “for their courageous decision to overcome their previous distrust and to focus on common interests of the future.”But the threat of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), the Ugandan group known notorious for abducting children as soldiers and sex slaves, must be contained, he stressed, with some 1,100 people having been killed by the rebels between December 2009 and January 2009, hundreds abducted and 200,000 uprooted by the violence.That group has launched “gruesome reprisal attacks” in the wake of the joint military operation between DRC forces (FARDC), Ugandan troops (UPDF) and Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) aimed at flushing the rebels out of the region, the envoy, who also heads the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC (MONUC), said.“The LRA has dispersed into small groups, who have sown terror and taken revenge by looting, raping, maiming, abducting and killing civilians in a vast area stretching from northern Ituri to the eastern part of the Central African Republic,” said Mr. Doss.Another major challenge facing DRC and the UN mission, he said, is the integration of former militiamen into the FARDC. Although most elements of the CNDP and other armed groups have been registered, payments of salaries have been delayed and the provision of food and ammunition for troops fighting the rebel Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) ¬– the target of recent joint operations conducted by Rwanda and DRC – have been late to arrive.The Special Representative also underscored to the 15-member Council the need to continue military pressure against the 4,500-strong FDLR. “Such pressure has been instrumental in the surrender and voluntary return of combatants and dependents to Rwanda,” he stressed, estimating that close to 7,000 Rwandans have returned home as a result of the joint FARDC-Rwandan Defence Forces (RDF) operation.Mr. Doss warned that “if the Kivus continue to struggle with mass poverty, unemployment, and derelict infrastructures, new escalations of violence may emanate from the underlying tensions between ethnic communities.”The armed groups of North and South Kivu declaration that some 47,000 combatants were among their ranks may be an exaggeration, but he said that it indicated how many unemployed youth need to be put to work to avoid the risk of re-mobilization and underlined the importance of economic recovery in mitigating ethnic tensions.Today’s open meeting wrapped up with the Council commending “the improvement of the relationship among the countries of the region,” encouraging them to “continue reinforcing their political, military and economic cooperation to guarantee the long-term stabilization of the Great Lakes region,” according to a press statement read out by Ambassador Claude Heller of Mexico, which holds the body’s rotating monthly presidency.Welcoming last month’s peace accord, the Council also welcomed the progress made so far in the disarmament, demobilization, repatriation, resettlement and reintegration (DDRRR) programme, calling on those FDLR forces which have not taken part to do so.In today’s statement, the body also voiced its grave concern about the ongoing uprooting of civilians and massive violations of human rights, especially of reports of widespread sexual violence and continued recruitment of children into armed groups, calling for an end to impunity for the perpetrators.In a joint statement today, Olusegun Obasanjo and Benjamin Mkapa, the UN and AU Special Envoys for the Great Lakes Region, praised the courage of signatories of last month’s accord, reminding the parties that “rapid and faithful implementation is key to success, and urged them to fully implement the agreements, in accordance with their stated commitments and agreed timetable.”Further, the envoys urged all involved that “these agreements are not used as a pretext for the emergence of new armed groups in the Kivus.”A new wave of clashes has forced 30,000 people from their homes, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Fighting broke out on 31 March when a group calling itself the Popular Front for Justice in the Congo (FPJC) attacked villages in the Ituri district, also in eastern DRC. A few days later, the self-styled Revolutionary Front for Peace in the Ituri (FPRI), which refused to take part in the UN-AU peace talks and has been blamed for major human rights violations, launched a counter-attack in the area.In today’s statement, the Special Envoys expressed concern over the new displacements, but said that they are confident that “improved relations of good neighbourliness and cooperation between the DRC and Rwanda will bode well for the future peace and development of the entire Great Lakes Region.” They also stressed that “after years of conflict and humanitarian crisis, the region is now yearning for peace, and that the international community is expecting full implementation of the agreements.” 9 April 2009Although a nascent peace process has led to a “sea change” in the strife-torn eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a top United Nations official today cautioned that challenges – including rebel groups continuing to wreak havoc in the region – remain.