SECRETARY-GENERAL NOTES RECENT PROGRESS IN DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO, BUT SAYS GREAT CHALLENGES AHEAD, IN STATEMENT TO SECURITY COUNCIL
NEW YORK, 21 February (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the statement of Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the 21 February Security Council meeting with the Political Committee established by the July 1999 Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement on the peace process in the Democratic Republic of the Congo:
Last June, in this Chamber, the members of the Political Committee of the Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement met with the Security Council to discuss advancing the peace process in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Much has changed since last June, and in recent weeks some things, at least, have changed for the better. First, the parties have been talking to each other at the highest levels with a renewed determination to find a peaceful solution. Second, the way has been opened for the Congolese people to take part in the governance of their country, and to have a real say in determining their future. Third, a de facto cessation of hostilities prevails throughout much of the country.
As this Council -- and all the parties -- are aware, however, great challenges lie ahead which require the will to peace, and the ability to implement commitments made.
Today, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is divided by a line of confrontation between the forces of five foreign armies -– a line that stretches from Lake Mweru on the Zambian border to the banks of the Ubangi River, the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I think you have maps in front of you. For the last five weeks, calm has descended on that line.
In accordance with the plan devised by the Joint Military Commission and approved by the Political Committee, the opposing troops can soon begin to withdraw from their advance positions and step back from the line of confrontation. Such a move could be the first step towards an eventual withdrawal of all foreign forces from the territory of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Since the Lusaka Agreement was signed in July and August 1999, this has been our common goal.
In spite of the obstacles, misunderstandings and delays that have prevented its implementation so far, all the parties can take a measure of credit for the recent progress. All the parties remain responsible for seeing this process to its logical, rightful and long-awaited conclusion.
The plan for the disengagement of forces was signed at Harare on 6 December.
I have since submitted to the Security Council a concept of operations, under which United Nations military personnel would be deployed to monitor and verify the actions to be taken by the parties in implementing the disengagement plan. The Council is now ready to endorse that concept, and the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) and the Secretariat have already begun to take the steps necessary to put it into practice.
Once you have finished your discussions here, a date will be set to begin the disengagement and redeployment exercise. The troops can then start drawing back, supervised and monitored by United Nations military observers. The implementation date should be chosen with care: not too late to lose the momentum already generated, but not before all the necessary preparations have been put in place to ensure an efficient and transparent operation.
These military movements will take place in a political environment which, however troubled and volatile, has also shown clear signs of improvement.
I welcome the decision of President Kabila’s Government to permit the neutral facilitator, Sir Ketumile Masire, to work with the various Congolese parties in conducting the national dialogue. Without broad political agreement among the Congolese people based on a dialogue leading to free and fair elections, no military solution can bring lasting peace and stability to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
In view of the recent positive signs in the Democratic Republic of the Congo peace process, I urge all those donors who pledged to support the work of the neutral facilitator to move quickly to fulfil their promises. At the same time, I urge the members of the Security Council and the wider international community to provide financial and other support to President Masire’s important work.
Before achieving the long-term political goals, however, we must address the humanitarian crisis that still affects large numbers of the Congolese people. At this point, in too many parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, humanitarian assistance workers are being prevented from reaching populations in dire need of aid.
At least 2 million people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have been driven from their homes by the fighting. Fewer than half of them receive humanitarian assistance. There may be as many as 16 million people with not enough to eat. More than half the population lacks access to drinkable water, and almost two-thirds cannot obtain essential medicine. Finally, the security of
neighbouring countries not involved in the war has been placed at risk, not least through flows of refugees, as well as armed men, fleeing the fighting.
I wish to highlight the tragic fact that civilians -– especially women and children –- have been the principle victims of the fighting. Terrible crimes have been committed against women, including rape as a weapon of war. Children have been inducted into armies and sent to the front. They must be given a chance to build a better future.
The world has been waiting for the parties to this conflict -- the parties that signed the Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement -- to prove their determination to end the fighting and lay the foundations for peace and recovery.
Only as they do so can the international community and the United Nations materially assist them. We have heard complaints of the slowness of the United Nations to act, or the small size of the forces it plans to deploy. But governments that contribute troops to United Nations peacekeeping operations are not convinced that they should risk their soldiers' lives in circumstances where those most responsible are not themselves reliably committed. You may wish it were otherwise, but these are the facts.
That is why these meetings between the Security Council and the Political Committee are so important. Let us now build on the advances of the past few weeks: the agreements that have been signed, and the careful plans that have been made. Let the parties to the conflict show the world that they are willing and able to keep their promises, to end a shameful and disastrous conflict, and to work reliably with the international community in laying the foundations for recovery.
In this connection, I welcome the confirmation by President Kagame to me in a telephone conversation on 19 February of his decision to withdraw his troops from Pweto, and pull back all his forces 200 kilometers, according to the Harare disengagement and redeployment plan. I have instructed my Special Representative, Mr. Morjane, and the Force Commander, General Diallo, who are with us today, to prepare to assist in this withdrawal. I hope this move by Rwanda will help set the tone and lead the other parties to take similar steps towards the ultimate withdrawal of all foreign forces from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
I am therefore pleased to note the statement issued yesterday by the Ugandan Government that it intends to withdraw two battalions from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This is a further welcome development.
The parties should be given a clear message today: Let the disengagement of forces and the inter-Congolese dialogue begin. Draw up plans to bring all foreign forces home from Democratic Republic of the Congo territory. Work with your neighbours and with us to find innovative and creative ways to resolve the problems of armed groups and border security. These are the outcomes expected from this meeting. I wish you every success in achieving them.
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