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French-Led Peacekeeping Force, Security Council Delegation Head for DRC - 2003-06-05

A special U.N. Security Council mission is scheduled to leave for the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo on Saturday. An emergency, armed multi-national force is also gearing up to help stabilize eastern Congo.

Peacekeepers from a French-led, 1,400-troop strong force are expected to arrive in the troubled town of Bunia in the coming days.

France and the European Union are in the process of determining the makeup of the force, which will have a temporary, three-month-long mandate for Bunia, in the eastern Ituri Province. Ethnic fighting there has left more than 400 people dead.

French Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere says no peacekeeping mission can achieve long-term success without a solid political process.

So, in addition to trying to rein in the violence, Mr. de La Sabliere says the multinational force and an upcoming Security Council mission will also focus on establishing an agreed transitional government in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"I believe that the Security Council, speaking of the DRC, is at a point where it will push and it will favor the setting up this transition government," he said. "It will work on this political accompaniment in Ituri and will also speak to the neighboring countries. We all know that there is an influence of these countries on this situation, so it is important that the Security Council see the heads of state of this region. It is a mission that is of a very important political nature."

Mr. de La Sabliere is leading a separate Security Council mission to Central Africa, which leaves on Saturday and continues until June 16.

The French ambassador says the diplomats will bring a message to the region ravaged by five years of bloody civil war involving militias supported by neighboring countries.

"The mission will tell all its interlocutors that the fighting must stop," he said. "That means that the offensives launched by certain parties must cease immediately. It also means that any form of support, primarily to armed groups to militias in the DRC must cease as well."

About 700 unarmed U.N. peace keepers already in place have been unable to stop the fighting in Bunia, although they do provide refuge to terrorized civilians.

Undersecretary-General for Peacekeeping, Jean-Marie Guehenno recently returned from Bunia. He says sending a strong multinational force to the town will have an impact on the entire DRC.

"Wherever we deploy, we have to be in strength," he said. "It is better to be deployed in a limited number of places because we are not going to be able to deploy throughout the country, it is too big, but wherever we are deployed, we have to be in a position to be respected and not to be bullied."

Mr. Guehenno says with a strong enough force, the U.N. can play a key role in bringing peace to the Congolese people.