South African nations say they are prepared to send peacekeeping troops to the DR Congo to bolster the country's armed forces in the face of rebel attacks. Renegade General Laurent Nkunda said he would fight back if the peacekeepers attacked him.
Watch our Top Story: 'DR Congo faces catastrophe'
View our special report: 'Conflict in North Kivu'
GOMA - Congolese rebel chief Laurent Nkunda said on Monday
he would fight African peacekeeping troops if they attacked him,
as concerns grew that east Congo's conflict could suck in
Leaders from Africa's southern and Great Lakes regions have
offered to send troops to try to help pacify east Democratic
Republic of Congo, where fighting between Nkunda's Tutsi rebels
and the army has uprooted hundreds of thousands of people.
Aid agencies in Congo's North Kivu province are struggling
to provide shelter, food and medical care for more than 200,000
refugees around the provincial capital Goma, but say tens of
thousands more are cut off in the bush. They warn of the risk of
cholera and measles epidemics in the camps.
African and Western governments are worried the recent
upsurge in fighting in North Kivu, which borders Rwanda and
Uganda, risks drawing in Congo's neighbours as occurred during a
previous 1998-2003 war. That war involved six African armies and
the conflict and its aftermath killed several million people.
Countries of the Southern African Development Community
(SADC) said after a regional summit in South Africa on Sunday
the group would send military advisers to help the government of
Congolese President Joseph Kabila.
SADC would send a peacekeeping force to east Congo "if and
when necessary", its executive secretary Tomaz Salamao said.
Nkunda, whose Tutsi fighters are battling Congo government
soldiers (FARDC) and their Rwandan Hutu rebel (FDLR) and Mai-Mai
militia allies, said he would welcome African peacekeepers if
they came as an impartial force to stabilise North Kivu.
But, speaking to Reuters by telephone from eastern Congo, he
added: "If they come in and fight alongside the FARDC and the
FDLR ... they will share the same shame as the DRC government.".
"If SADC engages like this, they will have made a mistake
... I am ready to fight them," Nkunda said.
Some military experts expressed doubts about how quickly a
SADC security force could be dispatched to east Congo and how
effective it would be against Nkunda's battle-hardened guerrilla
army of 4,000, and against other marauding armed factions.
"This is good rhetoric, but I'm not sure it will happen,"
said Henri Boshoff, a military analyst for the Institute for
Security Studies in Johannesburg, told Reuters.
The United Nations, which already has its largest
peacekeeping force in the world, 17,000 strong, in Congo, is
seeking up to 3,000 extra troops to reinforce its operations
there. It says its existing force is thinly stretched across a
country the size of Western Europe where armed groups abound.
It was not immediately clear whether the proposed African
peacekeepers would operate under the U.N. mandate or separately.
ROOTS IN RWANDAN GENOCIDE
The North Kivu conflict traces its origins back to Rwanda's
1994 genocide of Tutsis by Hutus which helped trigger the
1998-2003 Congo war. Kinshasa accuses Rwanda of backing Nkunda,
who says he is defending Congolese Tutsis from attacks by FDLR
Rwandan Hutu rebels he says fight with the Congolese army.
Rwanda, which has twice invaded Congo before, officially to
fight Hutu rebels there, denies this and in turn accuses the
Congolese government of not acting to disarm the Hutu rebels.
Analysts say that to avert the risk of a wider regional war,
world and regional powers need to exert firm pressure on both
Congo and Rwanda to demobilise the rival rebel groups.
"The international community has already invested billions
of dollars to build and maintain peace in the Congo. To not
invest hugely in diplomatic terms right now would risk it all,"
Francois Grignon and Fabienne Hara, Africa program director and
vice president of International Crisis Group, wrote recently.
African Great Lakes leaders, including Rwandan President
Paul Kagame, called at a summit in Nairobi on Friday for a
ceasefire and a political settlement in North Kivu, but said
they could also send peacekeepers if required.
Commenting on SADC's offer of troops, Rwandan Foreign
Minister Rosemary Museminali said: "There should be a ceasefire
and a political solution."
European foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday
also called for a political settlement.
Congo's government has asked neighbour Angola, which backed
it during the 1998-2003 war, for help. The appearance in North
Kivu of Portuguese-speaking soldiers on the government side has
fuelled speculation Angola may have already sent troops. But
Angola's Foreign Ministry denied this.
Date created : 2008-11-10