- The Washington Times - Friday, January 28, 2000

Thanks largely to the United States, Africa is receiving heightened attention of late. Last month, a delegation led by Ambassador Richard Holbrooke and Sen. Russell Feingold undertook a high-profile mission to central Africa, visiting eight countries in 10 days.

Some of the key topics discussed were AIDS, the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the U.S. role in Africa. This month, as the chair of the U.N. Security Council, the United States has organized the "Month of Africa" to sustain international attention.

The Congolese conflict has been a priority of both the Africa trip and the activities at the United Nations. This week, the Security Council devoted its entire agenda to finding a solution to the problem. Regional heads of state, including President Laurent Kabila, have been invited to attend and participate in the sessions.

These activities are welcome. For certain, we face significant challenges and international attention is helpful. It is more important, however, that the United States and other Western countries adopt a new attitude towards the conflict one based on regional realities and not guilt over their 1994 failure in Rwanda. Unfortunately, today's Western policies exacerbate regional tensions instead of relieving them.

The basic flaw in U.S. policy is its failure to hold Rwanda and Uganda accountable for their deplorable roles in the war. It is widely recognized that these countries instigated the conflict in 1998 and continue to occupy large portions of Congolese territory. According to the United Nations, 6,000 people have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced in the war's first year. The Congolese people are suffering greatly.

The facts are these: In August 1998, President Kabila ordered the forces of Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi to leave the Congo. These armies supported the president's successful rebel campaign to oust the 32-year dictatorship of Mobutu Sese-Seko. Rather than depart, however, a full-scale invasion of the Congo was launched with the intent of toppling the government. At President Kabila's request, an international force comprising troops from Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia, led under the umbrella of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), intervened and thwarted the invaders' march on Kinshasa.

Today, Rwanda and Uganda use what were insignificant domestic political groups as a rebel front to occupy approximately one-third of the Congo's territory mainly in the resource-rich east. The United Nations and Amnesty International have documented that millions of Congolese are experiencing extreme hardship under the foreign occupation, including torture, murder, dislocation and repression. Additionally, these forces are pillaging the country's natural resources to help finance their illegal invasion.

Such acts are incontestable violations of international law. But where is the worldwide outrage and condemnation? It has been virtually nonexistent, sending the message that these actions are acceptable.

The problem with the Western approach is that it is driven by emotional factors, primarily guilt and remorse. For most policy-makers, the defining event of recent central African history is the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Hundreds of thousands were killed in one of the most horrible chapters in Tutsi-Hutu relations. It was a low point in recent world history as well. The United Nations and the Security Council, including the United States, clearly had an opportunity to intervene but failed to do so, an inaction that continues to haunt the West.

The Tutsi-Hutu relationship is a powerful force in our region and merits careful consideration. Since the Tutsis settled among the majority Hutus 400 years ago, tension and mistrust have persisted between them. All too often, these pressures have erupted into violence. In fact, what happened in 1994 was the latest and one of the most violent flash-points in an ongoing struggle for regional security and dominance.

Partially owing to the events of 1994, Tutsi-led governments today maintain power in Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi. In many cases, the West has turned a blind eye to conduct by these countries that is patently unacceptable. On the other hand, the Congo and its allies are held to a more stringent standard, the standard of international law.

The United States must now apply this single standard to all. As long as Rwanda and Uganda are viewed as victims and not as aggressors, the West is sowing the seeds of another policy fiasco in central Africa.

Therefore, in order for the peace process to move ahead, the United States and the international community must put maximum pressure on Rwanda and Uganda to withdraw from Congolese territory. A lasting peace only can be achieved on the foundation of respect for the rule of law. This approach, moreover, will have the broader impact of fostering democratic rule in Africa's Great Lakes region. The United States should act immediately.

Abdoulaye Yerodia Ndombasi is minister of state for foreign affairs and cooperation for the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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