Peace process back on track

Concerned that the bloody conflict in the Ituri region of north-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and increasing tensions between Rwanda and Uganda might derail the recently signed inter-Congolese political settlement, President Thabo Mbeki has been manoeuvring to prevent this happening.

On April 8 Mbeki invited all the presidents concerned — Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, the DRC’s Joseph Kabila and Tanzania’s Benjamin Mkapa — to a hastily convened summit in Cape Town, and secured commitments from them intended to keep the Great Lakes region’s peace process on track.

The Rwandan government, which pulled its troops out of the DRC in

October, had been threatening to re-enter the DRC if the Ugandan People’s Defence Force (UPDF) did not leave Ituri.
The Ugandan government, which disputes that the Rwandan Defence Force (RDF) has really left the DRC, had previously rejected what it termed this ultimatum from Rwanda.

The Ugandan government claimed that the UPDF had a mandate to remain in Ituri until the United Nations observer mission (Monuc) in the DRC could take over from both the UN Security Council and the DRC government. The claim has been denied by the Rwandan government.

At the Cape Town summit, however, Museveni undertook to pull out the UPDF from Ituri by April 24, and Mbeki said that a request is being made for Monuc troops to replace it. Museveni’s undertaking represents a significant concession to Rwanda, but Museveni put a positive spin on the decision, claiming that: “We have achieved our objectives in Ituri … We have done what we wanted to do.”

Asked what he would do if the UPDF did not withdraw as planned, Kagame replied that he had no reason to suppose that this would happen.

Uganda’s withdrawal from Ituri is to be verified by South Africa’s third party verification mechanism. The mechanism has been in action since late last year, to verify the compliance of the Rwandan and Congolese governments with the agreement they signed in Pretoria in July.

The mechanism has only 20 staff to undertake this huge task, and uses Monuc resources to travel all over the vast country, investigating allegations made by either party.

With the third party verification mechanism’s scope expanded, it also has the mandate to investigate the weapons flows into the region, and whether, as is widely suspected, the DRC government is supplying weapons to Mbusa Nyamwisi’s

RCD-ML movement, which has its headquarters in Beni, in the Ituri region.

The mechanism says it will need more resources, and hopes that it can employ at least another 30 people as soon as possible.

The UPDF’s withdrawal from the DRC will remove one factor fuelling hostile relations between Rwanda and Uganda, but the underlying problems will remain.

Asked at the post-summit press conference how relations were between Uganda and Rwanda, Museveni declined to comment, and instead asked Mbeki to do so.

Rolling his eyes heavenwards in mock despair, Mbeki observed that neither wanted to do “bad things” to the other, and that everyone was agreed that there should be “no tensions” between them.

Britain’s International Development Secretary, Clare Short, has on previous occasions said much the same after her summits with Kagame and Museveni. Continued sabre-rattling by both sides subsequently showed Short’s optimistic pronouncements to be wrong, and there seems no reason to suppose that anything has changed this time.

Mbeki hopes the much-anticipated new transitional government in the DRC will at some stage exercise sovereignty over all its territory, preventing Uganda and Rwanda from waging their proxy war against each other in Ituri and other parts of the east.

Kabila and rival strongman Jean-Pierre Bemba’s no-shows at the DRC peace agreement signing ceremony in Sun City in late March were ominous indicators of the extent of their commitment to the agreement.

However, Kabila assured Mbeki of his commitment at the Cape Town presidential summit, and promised that the committee charged with implementing the agreement would meet this week in Kinshasa.

Enormous difficulties lie ahead in implementing the Sun City agreement and installing a new transitional government in the DRC, while at the same time preserving Rwanda-Uganda relations below boiling point, and putting an end to the vicious bloodletting in Ituri.

Mbeki’s summit in Cape Town solved none of these problems, but was a timely intervention nonetheless, and one that has helped keep the Great Lakes peace process on track — for now.

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