CAPITOL HILL — A number of U.S. lawmakers are calling on the Obama administration to take tougher action on Rwanda for supporting the M23 rebels who are terrorizing civilians in the eastern Congo. The Africa, Global Health and Human Rights Subcommittee held a hearing on the eastern Congo crisis Tuesday.
U.S. Ambassador Johnnie Carson, Assistant Secretary, the Bureau of African Affairs at the State Department, testified about how serious the situation is for residents of eastern Congo since M23 rebels rebelled against the government and took control of the eastern region in April.
"The security and humanitarian situation in the Congo is the most volatile in Africa today," Carson said.
Carson said five million people have died in inter-ethnic violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo since 1997. Carson said there is a credible body of evidence from the United Nations and other sources that the Rwandan government is aiding the M23 rebels, and called on Rwanda to cease any such support.
Subcommittee chairman Chris Smith, a Republican from New Jersey, said successive U.S. administrations have neglected to take a tough stand on Rwanda, due to U.S. regret about not stopping the genocide there in 1994.
"We must overcome our regret over what happened 18 years ago. As an NGO letter to President Obama points out, the United States is not out of step with our European allies, who have cut aid to Rwanda because of their interference in the DRC," Smith said.
His Republican colleague, Congressman Tom Marino of Pennsylvania, was even more forceful in his criticism, asking Carson how long the Obama administration was going to try to negotiate with the leaders of Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda while civilians continue to be killed.
"How many people have to die before you stop the negotiations and get serious about this?," Marino said.
Carson said that the U.S. government has to be patient and to continue to press the involved governments to see reason and to put an end to the violence. He stressed that the United States has taken action.
"We cut off our foreign military financing to the Rwandan government, one of the first such public acts by any government," Carsons said.
Analysts say they fear it will be hard to get a peace deal in talks scheduled between Congolese President Joseph Kabila and the M23 rebels, and that more civilians will die or be displaced.