KINSHASA — More details have been revealed of an agreement to station a neutral armed force along the border between the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Rwanda. The agreement, which was signed last weekend by the presidents of the DRC, Rwanda and nine other Great Lakes region countries, is intended to help eradicate negative forces destabilizing the region.
The DRC’s foreign affairs minister said Thursday that the neutral force could be part of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Congo, provided that the mission mandate is reviewed.
The plan for a neutral border force has prompted intense speculation and some cynical commentary in Kinshasa. One blogger wondered where the region would find such a force, and suggested they might have to be extra-terrestrials.
The DRC’s foreign affairs minister Raymond Tshibanda told media in Kinshasa that the force would not just be regional but would be open to troop contributions from all member states of the United Nations.
He said it should not be limited just to troops from the region and it was well understood that since the force would be neutral it would not contain troops from either the Democratic Republic of Congo or Rwanda.
The agreement calls on the Great Lakes countries to work with the African Union and the U.N. to immediately establish a neutral force in order to eradicate the Congolese M23 rebels, the Rwandan FDLR rebels, and all other negative forces operating in eastern DRC, and to protect the frontier.
The minister said the plan had been formulated after consultation with heads of state from the Southern African Development Community and with the African Union, and had also been discussed with the French, British and Belgian governments.
Tshibanda said the DRC hoped the border force would be equipped with hi-tech electronic surveillance equipment.
The agreement envisages the former presidents of Tanzania and Nigeria, Benjamin Mkapa and Olusgun Obasanjo, acting as monitors to ensure the plan is implemented and to evaluate its progress.
Impartial monitoring will be very important, Tshibanda said, to ensure there is agreement on what has been achieved and what still needs to be done, particularly with regard to the Rwandan FDLR rebels who have been in the Congo for many years.
He said the FDLR seems to resemble a vampire which keeps being killed and then re-emerging somewhere else. It should be clear to everyone, he continued, that there had to be an end to the FDLR and there would be an evaluation to decide whether the problem was finished or not.
He added that the M23 Congolese rebel group must also cease to exist.
Tshibanda admitted that the questions of who would pay for the troops and where they would come from still needed to be answered. He said if it was necessary for the U.N. mission in Congo, MONUSCO, to provide troops as part of this force, the region would not be opposed, but there would be conditions.
He says the mandate of MONUSCO must be reviewed because it does not include the two missions set out for the border force, and he said the rules of engagement must also be reviewed to give the force enough capability to react.
He also suggested that the troops contributed would have to be up to the task of meeting the threat. If MONUSCO was to contribute the troops, he said, the U.N. Security Council would have to make the necessary decisions.
Tshibanda said that it was not easy to get the U.N. to move and there was work to do to achieve this.
On Wednesday MONUSCO said it had not been consulted on the plan for a neutral border force and could not comment.