Congo peace: So far, so good

A little more than 60 days into the implementation of a South Africa-brokered peace agreement between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda, the signs are good.

In the agreement, concluded in Pretoria on July 30, the Rwandan government said it would pull all its troops out of the Congo within 90 days. Sizeable troop withdrawals have already taken place and the indications are that the Rwandan government will meet the deadline.

Ugandan troops are off home too, leading to tragic scenes at Gbadolite airport, as desperate wives and girlfriends ordered to stay behind try to force their way on to the aircraft carrying the soldiers back to Uganda.

On the pro-Congo government side, the Namibian soldiers have nearly all gone, as have most of the Angolans. Zimbabwean withdrawals have begun in earnest and Zimbabwe says all its forces will have left by the end of this month.

On September 23 the Congolese government banned the FDLR, the political wing of the remnants of the former Rwandan army and genocidal interahamwe militia based in the Congo. FDLR leaders were given 72 hours to leave the capital Kinshasa. It is their presence in the Congo, and the threat they pose to Rwanda’s security, which has always been the primary justification cited for Rwanda’s military intervention.

On September 28 the Kinshasa authorities arrested Tharcisse Renzaho, who was subsequently transferred to the holding cells of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Renzaho, the former prefect of Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, where he is believed to have been responsible for thousands of deaths during the 1994 genocide, later became a senior commander in the Congolese armed forces (FAC). Renzaho’s arrest was apparently ordered by President Joseph Kabila.

Disassociating itself from Rwandan militia suspected of genocide is not easy for the Congolese government since many, like Renzaho, have served in the FAC for years.

The Rwandan government recognises that Kabila is taking a risk acting against the FDLR and one reason the Rwandan Patriotic Army has retreated so promptly is to reassure him. Another reason is the pressure Rwanda has been subjected to by donors, particularly the United States, which in August threatened to block a key accord with the International Monetary Fund unless Rwandan troops left the Congo. The US has previously been sympathetic to Rwanda, and the sudden change in position appears related to its growing commercial relations with the Congo.

South Africa has played a key role. Even if it does not trust Kabila, the Rwandan government evidently trusts South Africa and its commitment to the process, and the Congolese government, too, has been full of praise for President Thabo Mbeki and his team. South Africa’s task now is to act in conjunction with the United Nations as the third party to the Pretoria agreement and is responsible for verifying that it is implemented.

A South African team has been in Kinshasa since the agreement was signed and 1500 South African National Defence Force troops are soon to be deployed to the Congo. Somehow they and the Monuc forces (the UN peacekeeping mission in the Congo) must accomplish the voluntary disarmament, demobilisation, repatriation, reinsertion and reintegration of all the remaining anti-Rwandan government militia.

The task is impossible, but the key question here is less whether every last person can be extracted from the forests than whether the militia can be prevented from posing a significant security threat to Rwanda. If attacks recommence from the Congo into Rwanda, the Rwandan government has already warned that it will act decisively to stop them.

The next requirement for peace, or something approaching it, is the formation of a new coalition government in Kinshasa. Everyone now recognises that this must include Kabila, representatives of opposition parties and the rebel military juntas controlling the north and east of the country—the Uganda-backed MLC, and the Rwanda-backed RCD.

Mbeki tried and failed to achieve this during talks at Sun City earlier this year, but members of the president’s office are busy working on the project once more. They may have better luck this time, since all the external belligerents are taking a chance on peace and want their internal allies to do the same.

Mbeki and his team have proved highly adept at the difficult business of securing agreements in the Congo and then inducing the parties to stick to them. If they can succeed again with the internal settlement, it will arguably be South Africa’s finest diplomatic achievement to date.

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