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Disarmament in the Congo: Investing in Conflict Prevention

 PDF version of Disarmament in the Congo: Investing in Conflict Prevention

There are many challenges facing the Lusaka cease-fire signatories and the wider international community in implementing the Congolese peace agreement, but perhaps none so complex as the effort to disarm the non-Congolese armed groups destabilising the region from Congolese bases. Besides wreaking havoc themselves, these armed groups provide a rationale for neighbouring governments to conduct the counterinsurgency operations and continue the occupation of Congolese territory that have terrible humanitarian and human rights impacts. These armed groups – the largest of which are the forces associated with the former Rwandan Army (ex-FAR) and Interahamwe militias that carried out the 1994 Rwandan genocide -- are not the root cause of all of the Congo’s problems, but their continued presence in the Congo is the primary cause of the war and much of the worst violence, whether of their own doing or of the neighbouring governments seeking to counter them.

Since the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, the response of the international community to the problem of the armed groups has been disastrously negligent. It has tolerated the rearmament of the ex FAR and Interahamwe in DRC refugee camps and the consequent military interventions of the Rwandan, Ugandan and Burundian governments. In 1996 and 1998, the crisis has followed the same itinerary: from Rwanda to eastern Congo to Kinshasa. Twice, it has led to massive violence and a tragic humanitarian situation. Twice, it has triggered the formation of regional coalitions, with this present conflict creating new reasons for hostility and rivalry between states, further destabilising all central African countries.

Lasting peace in Central Africa is largely dependent on a successful strategy of Disarmament, Demobilisation, Reintegration or Resettlement (DDRR) of these armed groups. The ultimate success of this strategy, furthermore, is intimately linked to the development of political institutions and the formation of a national army and police in the Congo that will inhibit the re-emergence of armed groups, both foreign and domestic. Hence, the success of the Inter-Congolese Dialogue, particularly in integrating and rationalising the armed forces, will be critical. It is also linked to prospects of political change and dialogue in the neighbouring countries exporting their civil wars to the Congo.

A UN Security Council delegation has just returned from a tour in the countries involved in the DRC war. Based on their assessment, the Secretary General is preparing a report making recommendations on whether the UN observer mission in DRC (MONUC) should move from phase II (disengagement of forces) to phase III (withdrawal and disarmament). The mission reiterated the message from Security Council Resolution 1341 of 22 February 2001, that it will not undertake a Chapter VII peace enforcement operation to disarm these armed groups, hoping instead for bilateral deals between the Congolese and the Rwandan government. The Security Council is unlikely to expand the mandate of MONUC, which allows for 5,500 personnel. Nevertheless, within the existing mandate, there is scope to adjust priorities to enable MONUC to contribute effectively to the DDRR effort. First, a civil-military planning section to co-ordinate DDRR activities would help provide structure and focus for the effort. Second, authority to assist voluntary DDRR initiatives where needed would give MONUC the flexibility it needs to encourage the Lusaka Cease-Fire signatories to move forward. This is particularly pertinent to the likely request for MONUC support for security in any assembly areas for demobilised combatants. Despite welcome signs of renewed international interest in the DRC peace process, any signal from the Security Council that it is not prepared to play an important supportive role in the DDRR process while simultaneously demanding that the parties withdraw would be naïve and risky. Containment of the regional dimension of the war through insistence on disengagement of foreign troops is not enough to stabilise the DRC. If no progress is made on this issue, the war will likely resume either through an explosion in the Kivus or reversal of the momentum on disengagement. The Lusaka agreement was a cease-fire agreement, not a peace agreement. All of the necessary elements are present in the cease-fire agreement, but much work remains to be done to flesh out the specific requirements for longer-term regional security, political development, and economic co-operation.

 PDF version of Disarmament in the Congo: Investing in Conflict Prevention



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