KAMPALA — The leaders of the African Great Lakes region announced Wednesday that they would deploy a neutral international force to expel rebel groups operating in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). However, there was no decision about what exactly the force would look like. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said the group would meet again next month to discuss the issue further.
The announcement comes at the end of a two-day summit of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region, held in the Ugandan capital.
The latest wave of violence in the DRC began in April, when a group of Congolese soldiers mutinied and formed the Tutsi rebel group M23. Since then, conflict in the region has sent thousands fleeing over the border into neighboring Uganda.
At a press conference in South Africa on Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged the Great Lakes leaders to work together to end the violence in eastern Congo.
"The decision by Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC to resume talks is an important step," she said. "There has been a steady trail of rampaging violence, rape, killing and terrible human rights abuses over the last several years by renegade criminal bands. And we support the efforts of the DRC and we urge all the states in the region, including Rwanda, to work together to cut off support for the rebels in the M23, to disarm them and to bring their leaders to justice."
Both Congolese President Joseph Kabila and Rwandan President Paul Kagame attended the summit in Kampala, which was meant to defuse tensions between the two countries. In a report in May, the United Nations accused Rwanda of supporting rebels in the mineral-rich eastern Congo.
Kagame insists Rwanda is not supporting M23, but still, mistrust between the two countries runs deep.
The Great Lakes leaders agreed on Wednesday to support Kabila’s government, and mandated a committee of ministers to work out the details of the international force.
After the summit, Ugandan Foreign Minister Oryem Okello told reporters that this agreement was a sign that presidents Kabila and Kagame are prepared to cooperate.
"I think the very fact that they accepted it, the very fact that they signed it, is a testimony that they are willing to go out there and create lasting peace in the region," said Okello. "So I think we should have no doubt about the intention, the motive and the political will that is there following this summit. President Kagame and President Kabila are on talking terms, they are engaging each other, they would wish this issue to be resolved.”
Okello added that any regional force sent into eastern Congo would complement rather than replace the United Nations peacekeepers, MONUSCO, who are already operating in the DRC.
“You will appreciate that the MONUSCO mandate is limited to protection of civilians," said Okello. "Now we’re not talking about only protection of civilians here; we’re talking of a force that needs to be able to take action against those who are causing the insecurity in the region. So the neutral force will have a broader mandate than MONUSCO’s mandate.”
This week's summit is a continuation of a conference held in Addis Ababa last month, in which Great Lakes leaders declared that they would work together to end the violence in eastern Congo.