- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 29, 2001

It is almost impossible to think of Africa without thinking of the two scourges the recent Organization of African Unity (OAU) meeting set out to address: AIDS and conflict. In examining the latter, there are few countries that have been afflicted more savagely than the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The fragile peace that was crafted on July 10, 1999, and strengthened a month later with the additional signature of another belligerent party, is again in a rather precarious position. Indeed, earlier this month, the U.N. Security Council issued a statement calling for the return of all belligerents to the positions set by the 1999 Lusaka cease-fire agreement. Each of the three factions two rebel groups and the DRC's official forces are in violation of the 2-year-old treaty. The United Nations is further concerned that its own efforts in the embattled nation, spearheaded by the U.N. Organization Mission in the DRC (MONUC), will be obstructed.

The DRC's plight would be simpler were it contending only with its own internal problems. Compounding and obscuring the peace process is the military presence of several neighboring countries, including both rebel and official Burundi troops in the east, and Rwandan forces in Kisangani who have yet to withdraw, despite the agreed settlement to keep belligerents 100 kilometers from that disputed city.

The DRC's problems are many. Throughout the years, war has ravaged virtually every aspect of its society. The disruption of transportation lines, coupled with a decline in production, has drastically undercut the country's food supply. The ongoing conflict only perpetuates the cycle of shortages, as both foreign and domestic armies move freely through the country and pillage supplies. A chronic lack of security makes for low investment potential, further stalling economic advancement and an end to the pervasive malnutrition and hunger in the DRC.

One of the best objectives advanced in the recently released OAU report on the DRC is an appeal "to the United Nations to speed up the investigations on the illegal exploitation of the natural resources of the DRC." As long as the wholesale plundering of the DRC's natural resources and supplies continues, and as long as there are no credible borders and the DRC serves as the staging ground for wars both foreign and domestic, progress is illusory.

Situations precisely like the DRC's beg for U.N. action. Also part of the OAU's proposal was an expanded MONUC presence. MONUC, which under mandate is allowed up to 5,537 military personnel, currently maintains a force of only 2,792. MONUC is hamstrung further by the insurgent efforts of the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD), one of the two rebel factions within the country. According to Atoki Ileka, the DRC ambassador to the United Nations, the DRC prompted the Security Council's admonishment concerning the treaty violations. The message is clear: The DRC needs help. An increased U.N. presence not only would work to restore logistically the government's legitimacy, but also would bring the embattled nation into the international spotlight, and would bring hope of finally ending the destructive cycle of one step forward and two back.

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