31 May 2001


NEW YORK, 30 May (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the statement of Secretary-General Kofi Annan to today's meeting of the Security Council to examine the report of the Council mission to the Great Lakes region:

From the outset, I wish to pay tribute to the just-concluded Security Council mission to the Great Lakes region. I believe this timely and important visit served to consolidate the recent momentum for peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and demonstrated the importance that the United Nations attaches to the peace process there. I think we've heard an eloquent and comprehensive briefing from Ambassador Levitte who led the team. By visiting not only the States signatories of the Lusaka Agreement, but also Burundi, the Security Council recognized the linkage between the conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi. It is clear that we will have to work to ensure the implementation of both the Lusaka and the Arusha agreements, if we are to achieve peace throughout the region.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo -- a vast and impoverished country devastated by conflict and with virtually no infrastructure -- presents an immense operational, administrative and logistical challenge to any outside mission. However, we are now faced with a genuine window of opportunity for peace and security in the Democratic Republic of the Congo -- and I think Ambassador Levitte described it very clearly. An important signal has been the re-opening of the river network in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for humanitarian assistance and commercial exchanges between Kinshasa and Kisangani. More specifically, there has been progress on disengagement, and the United Nations has been actively assisting the parties in implementing their commitments. The United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) has deployed 490 military observers who, supported by 1,660 troops, are verifying the disengagement. Already, MONUC has verified close to 60 per cent of the redeployment positions.

In the near future, the parties will be finalizing plans for the withdrawal of all foreign troops as well as for the disarmament, demobilization, reintegration, repatriation and resettlement of armed groups. This process will also present a major challenge to MONUC and the international community as a whole.

The planning for these operations has already begun -- and of course we need to work with those on the ground -- which must be incorporated into the overall planning for phase III of the Mission. I think that the insight of the Security Council is crucial as we move to phase III. My recommendations for that phase will be contained in my forthcoming report to the Security Council, to be issued in mid-June. I hope the international community will also contribute generously.

Significantly, there has also been a change in the political climate within the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Recently, we have seen progress in the inter-Congolese dialogue -- which we have just heard -- which is an indispensable element of the peace process. The recent developments include: the signing by the Congolese parties on 4 May in Lusaka of a Declaration of Principles for the conduct of the dialogue; the announcement on 17 May by President Kabila lifting the ban on political parties; and the announcement by the Facilitator for the inter-Congolese dialogue, Sir Ketumile Masire, that he will convene a preparatory meeting for the dialogue on 16 July -- as we've just heard -- which could open the way for political reconciliation.

Among remaining urgent challenges in the Democratic Republic of the Congo peace process, I wish to highlight the following:

First, the humanitarian situation. Recent political and military developments have resulted in greater access to vulnerable communities, including some which had been beyond our reach since the start of the war. Needs assessments are currently being carried out in these areas. It is imperative that additional resources are made available to address the emerging requirements, as well as to fund quick-impact projects that can bring immediate benefits to the population. Frankly speaking, current international support for humanitarian activities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is unacceptably low, with only 20 per cent of the 2001 Consolidated Appeal for $139.4 million being funded. The Council may wish to take up this issue with donors as a matter of urgency.

Second, human rights, and I think we have heard quite a lot about human rights. The dire situation concerning the human rights of civilians is well known to Council members. I believe that it is important to step up MONUC's monitoring activities in this area without delay. In cooperation with the High Commissioner for Human Rights, I have taken steps to increase the number of human rights officers in MONUC. Within this area of concern, the question of impunity has to be addressed by investigating alleged massacres and other major violations of human rights.

Without accountability for the most severe crimes, there can be no lasting peace.

Third, child soldiers. As you are aware, the use of child soldiers has been pervasive in all fighting forces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. My Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Mr. Olara Otunnu, is currently visiting the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and I am looking forward to receiving his recommendations on how to address this issue in a comprehensive manner.

Separately, the security situation continues to be precarious -- especially in the east of the country. In Ituri province, where six International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) workers were killed recently, only one international organization, Memisa, has resumed work outside Bunia, the provincial capital. And at present there are only three United Nations field security officers for the entire country, which is totally inadequate.

We face a truly daunting challenge in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. However, I believe there is a foundation for peace, based on progress in three areas: the holding of the ceasefire, as we just heard; the steady implementation of the disengagement of troops; and the liberalization of political life. As you well know, peace will not be brought to the Democratic Republic of the Congo by MONUC alone. The leaders and peoples of the region must lead the way and create a new culture of peace and coexistence. Beyond the region, every member of the United Nations family has a role to play in helping to secure the peace, and improving the lives of the Congolese people.

I applaud the Council’s commitment and their contribution to this cause, and look forward to building on the progress that has been achieved. I think you should be very proud of your own mission and what you achieved on the ground.

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