- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 3, 2003

The United Nations, stung by its failure to stop the 1994 Rwandan genocide, is attempting to halt bloodletting in northeastern Congo by deploying a greatly reinforced peacekeeping mission amid new reports of massacres and atrocities.

Meanwhile, European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana arrived yesterday in Madrid seeking NATO’s endorsement for an immediate French-led, 1,400-troop deployment to Congo.

Half of the troops would be supplied by France and the remainder from a small group of EU nations and others, including Canada.

Ambassadors of the Western alliance will take up the request today, and a spokesman for Mr. Solana said the troops could be on the ground within a week.

The proposed deployment marks the United Nations’ most ambitious attempt to assert itself globally since its failure to back the U.S.-British campaign to oust Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.

In the case of Congo, the initiative has come primarily from France and other EU nations.

EU foreign ministers agreed last month to consider supporting an emergency U.N. “bridging force” in eastern Congo, ahead of a larger peacekeeping deployment by the United Nations.

As of March, the United Nations had 4,300 peacekeepers in Congo, but only 500 of them are armed. There are about 750 in the northeast, where the massacres are reported.

The United States, with its attention riveted on Middle East trouble spots and al Qaeda terrorists, has offered no troops to the effort.

“The United States has remained on the sidelines despite reports of massacres and the discovery of mass graves,” said Joseph Sala, a former State Department official who is now a private consultant who keeps close watch of Africa’s wars.

On Monday, the State Department said it “welcomes the immediate adoption by the United Nations” of a resolution authorizing the French-led multinational temporary force for eastern Congo.

The most savage round of killings involves a conflict between two small ethnic groups in northeastern Congo, the Lendu and Hema. The Lendu are supported by the Congolese government in Kinshasa, and the Hema are backed by Uganda.

Reuters news agency, reporting from the Ugandan capital of Kampala, quoted a Hema spokesman as saying the Lendu had slaughtered more than 350 civilians in a weekend attack near the embattled town of Bunia. The report could not be independently confirmed.

U.N. officials last week said hundreds of people had died in fighting in the area in April.

Human rights groups have pleaded with the United Nations for months to step up its presence in eastern Congo, warning of a genocide that could rival Rwanda’s, where an estimated 800,000 were slaughtered in 1994.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has called for tripling the number of peacekeeping troops in northeastern Congo to control tribal fighting and promote a peace deal to end the country’s civil war.

A large-scale peacekeeping force, which U.N. officials hope to have in place by September, presumably would replace the EU force.

In a report to the Security Council, Mr. Annan said that after nearly five years of continuous fighting, Congo “finds itself at an intersection of peace and war.”

For years, the U.S. government’s proclaimed policy on the Congolese conflict has been to espouse the territorial integrity of Congo, Africa’s third-largest nation, formerly known as Zaire, and to leave it at that.

Apart from the Lendu-Hema fighting, another conflict is raging, also in eastern Congo, between a guerrilla insurgency backed by Rwanda and one of its splinter groups.

Both hot spots are in northeastern Congo in the area surrounding Lake Kivu, a region rich in mineral resources.

The two pockets of violence threaten agreements signed late last year to end the 4-year-old upheaval in Congo, fought by sundry rebels supported at one time or another by at least six different African states.

The accords virtually ended direct foreign involvement but left a pile of rivalries among rebel groups.

Although there is little doubt that large-scale violence is taking place in northeastern Congo, there is a shadowy quality to the engagements.

The current group of U.N. peacekeepers is virtually penned up in Bunia quarters while the action is taking place at least 30 miles away in the dense forests near the Ituri region.

The Congolese government said the latest fighting showed it was vital to deploy a U.N.-mandated force quickly to restore peace.

“These things are to be expected. Outside forces keep creating warlords in this area, and they will continue to do so,” said Kikaya bin Karubi, Congo’s information minister.

The current Congolese conflict began in 1998, a year and a half after Rwanda installed Laurent Kabila, father of the current president, Joseph Kabila, as Congo’s president.

Rwanda became dissatisfied with the elder Mr. Kabila on grounds that he failed to guard the border with Rwanda and backed a proxy rebellion to unseat him.

That resulted in a wider war that brought in Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia in support of the Congolese government, and Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi seeking to topple it.

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