|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
PRESS CONFERENCE ON DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the Democratic Republic of the Congo told correspondents at a Headquarters press conference today that October marked the beginning of the final nine months for the three-year transitional period in that country, and for the largest mission in United Nations peacekeeping history.
William Lacy Swing, who heads the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), noted that, in a real sense, the biggest challenge facing the Mission was one of time -- to see whether, in the remaining nine months of transition, all of the Mission’s remaining objectives could be accomplished. Those objectives included credible elections with stability, the maintenance of peace and security, addressing the war’s legacy or the humanitarian objective, and continuing with the internal restructuring and reform of MONUC as an institution.
He said it remained to be seen, therefore, whether the Mission, the international community and the Democratic Republic, working together, could, in the remaining nine months, accomplish those objectives and arrive at conditions of stability and legitimacy via elections before the end of the transition on 30 June 2006.
Almost all of MONUC’s efforts and considerable resources had been devoted to voter registration, he said. As of yesterday, the Independent Electoral Commission had registered some 15 million voters, out of an estimated potential electorate of more than 24 million. He did not know how many more there were, as there had not been a census in the last 20 years. While the registration process was behind schedule, the achievements to-date represented significant progress in the electoral process. The problems encountered had been almost entirely of a technical nature, including late delivery of registration kits. Surprisingly, there had been few security problems. Voter registration had been extended beyond 25 September, mainly because of logistical difficulties.
Meanwhile, preparations for the constitutional referendum, which is scheduled to take place before the end of the year, had already begun, he said. Equipment was being deployed to centres and training manuals for polling staff were nearing completion. The Democratic Republic was a vast country with no usable infrastructure. All of the arrangements for the elections were being done by air. There were 9,000 voter registration stations, employing about 40,000 people. For the actual elections, there would be about 40,000 polling stations with about 200,000 Congolese poll workers.
The Mission had made a good start in helping to train the police needed for the elections, he added. There were, however, many challenges regarding the issue of security sector reform. Nine brigades would be trained before the referendum and 18 before the first elections in 2006.
In Ituri, some 15,700 of the Congolese militia had been disarmed and demobilized, he said. About 1,500 to 2,000 Ituri militia remained, however, continuing to pose a threat to the population, the Congolese Army and to MONUC, which had lost 12 soldiers this year. Most of the militia leaders had been detained, however, and he believed there was a good chance of eliminating the problem of internal militia in Ituri.
In the Kivus, the other conflict area, the Mission continued to carry out regular joint military operations with the Congolese forces, he said. The MONUC had somewhat reduced its activity in recent weeks, as military helicopters were being used for the registration. The Mission continued, however, almost on a weekly basis, to go after both the Interahamwe and the ex-FAR, pushing them out of population centres and trying to interest them in its voluntary programme.
As he had explained to the Security Council, however, the disarmament, demobilization, reintegration, repatriation and resettlement (DDRRR) programme for the Interahamwe, ex-FAR and Ugandan forces – namely, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (NALU) and the People’s Redemption Army (PRA) -- had pretty much reached their limits, he added. Some 12,000 militia had been demobilized and repatriated, including about 7,000 Rwandans and 600 Ugandans, the rest being mostly Burundians. Hard-line commanders, however, were holding the large majority of the 10,000 ex-FAR and Interahamwe hostage. There would be an increasing use of more forceful means to get them to return home.
Continuing, he noted that the Tripartite Commission, which was a Washington initiative, would hold its seventh meeting in Uganda. That body had set 30 September 2005 as the deadline for their departure or face a range of sanctions yet to be announced and defined.
Describing one of the latest developments, he said some 100 to 400 members of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) had crossed the border into a district of the Oriental Province, just north of Ituri, in a small border town of Aba. The Mission had immediately sent a delegation to Kampala to discuss how best to address the issue. A delegation had also been sent to Aba to explain the options before them, namely, to enter the Mission’s DDRRR programme or to face forcible repatriation. The Mission was working closely with the Congolese Army and Government on the matter. All agreed -- Congo, MONUC and Uganda -- that it was unacceptable that they remained there and they would be obliged to return.
Would the security situation weaken as the Mission focused on election preparations, and was the 2,850 additional troops requested by the Secretary-General enough? a correspondent asked.
That assessment had been made in the Secretary-General’s previous report, he said. Without the brigade, the Mission would be engaged in a zero-sum game. The Mission was currently taking a stop-gap approach to Katanga. There was also a great deal of instability in north Katanga. The MONUC was arranging to put several temporary companies into the so-called “triangle of trouble” of north and central Katanga to provide a modicum of stability. While the presence of the foreign armed groups or the militia posed a threat to the civilian population, he did not think they posed an overall threat to the elections. So far, registration had gone well.
How significant was the Ugandan threat to deal directly with the LRA? a correspondent asked. Responding, Mr. Swing said the Mission had made clear that, while the incursion was unacceptable, it was important to fully respect the national sovereignty of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The problem would be taken care of by the Congolese army with MONUC’s support.
Responding to another question, he said the International Criminal Court had issued arrest warrants for five people. The notifications had gone out last week to the Governments of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda and the Sudan. He was not at liberty to give the names of those people, as he was not aware of what the International Criminal Court had put on the record.
Asked whether he was discouraged with the Council’s apparent lack of support, Mr. Swing said he worked with what he was given. The Mission had made a very good case. He was not complaining, but explaining. To put the country into perspective, the province of Kinshasa was about the size of Kosovo, where there had been about 46,000 troops. Ituri district, where there were some 4,800 troops, was the size of Sierra Leone, which had 17,500 troops. The Democratic Republic of the Congo was five times larger than Côte d’Ivoire, Burundi, Liberia and Sierra Leone put together, with twice the population. Cambodia was the size the second smallest of the country’s 11 provinces.
About 80 per cent of the Mission’s force was concentrated in the east, he explained. The Mission had created the first-ever United Nations divisional headquarters in Kisangani, bringing it two hours closer to the conflict areas of Ituri and the Kivus. That meant that there were three battalions in the rest of the vast country. The case had been made, but it was up to the Security Council to make a decision.
The MONUC was the largest and most expensive United Nations peacekeeping mission in the world, he said. The Mission’s current budget request was some $1.4 billion. If a country paid 27 per cent or 10 per cent of that budget, it would look at each brigade request very carefully. The Mission was working on the basis of the resources it had, not what it might get.
Asked how the Mission would disseminate information about the elections, he said it would use Radio Okapi, the largest radio facility in the history of United Nations peacekeeping. The IEC would also be using its resources to educate, acquaint and inform.
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