Press Briefing


A revised concept of the United Nations presence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is to be presented to the Security Council at the end of this week, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, told correspondents at a Headquarters press briefing Monday afternoon. 

Introducing the upcoming report of the Secretary-General, he explained that the concept of the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) had been modified in the light of the experience gained in the 15 months since it had been developed.  While still an observer mission to monitor and verify the movements of the parties in compliance with the Harare Disengagement and Deployment Plan , which was signed on 6 December, MONUC would have a reduced number of military personnel and a lower need for equipment.

Mr. Guéhenno said that now there was a window of opportunity for the advancement of the peace process in the Democratic Republic.  A very strong signal to be sent by the new concept of operations was that the United Nations stood ready to provide an opportunity for the parties to the conflict to achieve peace.  Now it was up to the parties to go forward with the political process.  

The report was coming out at a time of active diplomatic efforts to resolve the situation in the Congo, which included recent meetings between the United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan with the new head of State of the Democratic Republic, Joseph Kabila, and President of Rwanda Paul Kagame.  The two Presidents had also participated in the work of the Security Council.  No significant violations of the ceasefire had been witnessed in more than 3 weeks -- the longest period of calm since the signing of the Lusaka Agreement in July 1999.

The objective of the plan was to reduce the risk of clashes by positioning the parties away from the current confrontation line, he said.  If approved by the Security Council, a total of some 550 military observers would be deployed in the country in the near future.  The armed forces would withdraw first to intermediate and then to new defensive positions further back, in accordance with the timeframe to be finalized with the parties. 

The concept was based on MONUC presence in four sector headquarters:  in Mbandaka, Kisangani, Kananga and Kalemie, he continued.  Military observers would be deployed from those centres to monitor disengagement of armed forces.  He stressed that the role of the armed personnel would be limited exclusively to guarding United Nations facilities, supplies and equipment, for the primary threat to the international presence in the country came not from hostile action, but from pilfering and vandalism.  They were not expected to deploy in protection of the civilian population or to extract military observers in difficulty.  Their number would not exceed 2,000 for the entire country.  Also, two riverine units of some 400 men would be deployed, in view of the importance attached to the country’s waterway system.

Of course, as with any peacekeeping plan, the success of the operation would heavily depend on the willingness of the parties to observe their commitments, he said.  The Joint Military Commission (JMC) -– a decision-making military body established by the Lusaka Agreements, which had been discussing the Disengagement Plan over the weekend -- had not yet made significant progress on the actual modalities of the disengagement.  It seemed that two of the rebel movements were still attaching conditions to their participation.  The Political Committee, the ministerial body supervising the JMC, was now expected to take up that matter.  The United Nations stood ready with the observer force to be deployed throughout the disengagement lines agreed upon by the parties.

Responding to a question regarding the willingness of foreign troops to leave the country, Mr. Guéhenno said that statements had been made by both President Kabila and President Kagame in the Security Council.  The total withdrawal of troops was still a matter for political discussion between various participants.  The disengagement plan was a very important first step, which created the right basis for further disengagement. 

Asked to provide an exact number of personnel for the Mission, he said that there would be 550 observers and 2,000 troops.  There were also about

500 civilian personnel.  Thus, the operation would involve about 3,000 people.  

Previously, there had been an authorized force of 5,537, a correspondent commented.  Did the change in numbers mean that fewer people were needed?  Mr. Guéhenno said that, in spite of the ongoing fighting in the Democratic Republic, the MONUC military observers had never found themselves under attack.  Their security was being ensured by the parties.  He expected that under the disengagement plan, their security would be guaranteed to an even greater extent.  The logistics and deployment concepts had also been refined in light of the past experience. 

He went on to say that the proposed numbers were commensurate with the envisaged tasks.   Nothing could be worse than sending a misleading message by sending an inflated number of personnel, giving the impression that the Mission was going to accomplish more than it actually could.  The envisioned numbers could provide a measure of reassurance to the parties that the disengagement was taking place by confirming withdrawal of particular units.  MONUC was not expected to become a peace enforcement mission in the Democratic Republic -– that would be a completely different setup.

Was deployment conditional on the acceptance of the plan by the rebel groups? a correspondent asked.  Mr. Guéhenno replied that the observers should deploy in “a clear situation”.  An agreement between the parties was needed to provide a clear basis for deployment.  Discussion was going on regarding the parties disagreement, and not all information was available at the moment. 

Responding to a question about troop commitments from countries, Mr. Guéhenno said that he could not provide that information at this stage.  However, several countries had expressed a willingness to provide troops and he felt “reasonably comfortable” that enough troops would be available to support the operation. 

To another question, he said that the situation in the Democratic Republic had had its ups and downs.  A significant number felt that the time had come to resolve the crisis.  There was no guarantee of success, but there was a window of opportunity.   The United Nations could not be expected to be passive in such a situation –- it was important to come forward and show a readiness to help.  However, it was also necessary to be cautious:  deployment could not take place “in the middle of a shooting war”.  The plan was to help disengagement, but not to substitute for it. 

Answering a question about the security of troops, he said that it depended on the political agreement of the parties.  If that was lacking, the troops would be evacuated before a question of extraction under hostile conditions came up.  Troops would not be kept in harms way if there was no political will on behalf of the parties.  Peace could not be forced on the warring parties.  The idea was to help them if they wanted to go forward.  The changes between the initial concept and the present plan were based on the rearrangement of the logistical structure.  The need was smaller than anticipated.  It was also based on the experience of the past 15 months and on the political agreement to be implemented.

The Harare Agreement envisioned exact positions where various troops should relocate, he pointed out.  The concept of the operation was that the observers would check the presence of units at those locations.

Who would enforce law and order after the withdrawal of occupying forces? a correspondent asked.  Mr. Guéhenno explained that, at the end of the day, law and order would depend on the parties.  The United Nations Mission was a facilitator in the country, which had been in crisis for a long time.  Law and order could not be achieved in the midst of the war.  Once the peace process started, the issues of law and order would be taken care of. 

To a question about Mr. Kagame’s security concerns, he said that they were indeed legitimate.  Discussion with Rwanda was needed on a way to address those concerns.  Demobilization, disarmament, reintegration and rehabilitation should be addressed, as well as monitoring at the border.

Regarding protection of civilians, he said that it would not be realistic to say that 2,000 troops could do that.  The United Nations was going to provide support to the peace process, which would create the basis for a political settlement.  That was the best protection for civilians.  Without peace, humanitarian agencies had no access to various parts of the country and development was impossible.  Military protection of civilians was an ambition beyond the means of the proposed force.  One of the lessons of the Brahimi report was that it was important to be realistic about what the United Nations could and could not do. 

Asked if it was premature to give up plans to expand the Mission, Mr. Guéhenno said that it was necessary to take one step at a time.  Now it was important to start the peace process.  As for the composition of the troops, he did not want to discuss particular countries’ participation.  Peacekeeping missions were implemented with agreement from the parties and acceptability of particular troops would be addressed.

To a question about the “chicken and egg” order of deployment and disengagement, he replied that they should be practically simultaneous.  Once all the relevant parties had signed the disengagement agreement, preparations for deployment would start. 

Regarding the disengagement line, he said that it would keep the parties apart.  What happened following the disengagement depended on the parties.  The departure of foreign troops and inter-Congolese dialogue should become parts of the peace process, for which the United Nations could help to create the right climate.

Did the plan envision disengagement in the Kivu province, which bordered Rwanda? a correspondent asked.  Mr. Guéhenno answered that the disengagement line was more or less on the border of that province. 

On the timeframe of the MONUC deployment, he said that some preparations had already been made.  He did not expect difficulties from the Government of the Democratic Republic.  Once approved, the Mission could realistically deploy in a few weeks.  Along with the negative news, there had been some positive signs from the country.  The United Nations was putting forward some realistic elements, which included putting pressure on the parties to the conflict and consolidating the momentum for the peace process.  However, not all the lights had turned green yet, and some problems remained.

To a question regarding expectations for the Mission, Mr. Guéhenno said that it was very important to establish the facts, in order to be able to conduct an effective operation on the ground.  Information provided by the parties to the conflict needed to be verified.  The disengagement plan offered a possibility to disentangle the forces and stop the fighting and human suffering.  It could make a big difference in terms of human lives.

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