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UN Security Council promotes rebel talks, wider peace effort in eastern Congo

UN Security Council promotes rebel talks, wider peace effort in eastern Congo

The U.N. Security Council urged a renewed push for true civilian rule in militia-plagued eastern Congo on Sunday as efforts continue to disarm rebel groups and finally restore peace to a ravaged region.
Congo's hilly eastern border area, scene of the worst fighting and humanitarian crisis in the Central African nation, has been lawless for so long that citizens have given up on any sort of government, France's U.N. Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert said as the council toured Goma, a major eastern city.
"They have to understand the state is there, the state is back and they can ask for help from somebody else other than the militias," said Ripert, who is leading the council visit to Congo.
A major step in this direction is local elections, which Ripert said should happen "as soon as possible, probably next year."
He said the Security Council was strongly behind ongoing work to demobilize militia fighters _ a slow process of regular meetings between the armed groups, a mixed technical commission and the Congolese government.
Ripert added that he would also carry back to the U.N. a request by representatives in Congo for more technical surveillance equipment such as drones, key tools for policing and monitoring a Europe-sized country with few roads and more history of war than peace.
Congo's U.N. peacekeeping force is the world's largest with 17,000 troops, most of those stationed in the east, but Congo's top U.N. envoy said they are still stretched thin.
"It's the equivalent ... of one cop for all of Manhattan," Alan Doss said.
The U.N. estimates that there are about 20,000 militia fighters in eastern Congo, belonging to a number of different groups. Among them are members of an extremist ethnic Hutu militia accused of orchestrating the 1994 genocide of 500,000 Tutsis in Rwanda. This group and others are accused of razing villages, terrorizing the local population and going on campaigns of rape.
The Security Council was meeting with this commission and with regional officials, as well as visiting camps for displaced people and observing the humanitarian response.
In the Mugunga camp just outside of Goma, orphans and women crowded around the officials, telling stories of hurried flights from homes and fields and ongoing fear that they will be attacked even as they go out to gather firewood.
Kabeya Kahindu said she had been living in the camp for more than a year with her husband and six of her nine children. She lost track of three of her children when they fled their village.
"I don't know where they are. They got lost," Kahindu said.
Provincial governor Julien Paluku said he hoped the U.N. visit would draw much-needed attention to a suffering region.
"The main problem is impunity. These warlords are causing problems everywhere" in North Kivu province, Paluku said.
The council arrived in Goma on the eighth day of a cross-continent trip to African hotspots. On Saturday, representatives of the U.N.'s most powerful body met with Congo's president and prime minister in the capital, Kinshasa.
In 2006, Congo installed President Joseph Kabila as its first democratically elected leader in more than 40 years, prompting accolades and hopeful speeches that the Congo was finally emerging from a nightmarish history of war, corrupt dictatorship and brutal colonial rule.
But Kabila has struggled to assert control, particularly over eastern warlords, and the army and militias have continued to battle sporadically in the region.
The council was scheduled to return to Kinshasa late Sunday afternoon, but takeoff was delayed when a security officer's gun accidentally discharged in the craft. No one was injured, but officials said they needed to inspect the plane and possibly fly another craft from Kinshasa to pick up the delegation.


Updated : 2021-05-06 12:13 GMT+08:00