US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs says UN peacekeepers in Congo need to be strengthened in order to fulfill their mission. She says the peacekeepers have the mandate to use force to pursue negative forces operating in the area but that they lack the strength to do so. Thomas Rippe reports for VOA from Kigali.
Frustration with the United Nations runs high in eastern Congo. Earlier this week residents in the besieged city of Goma hurled rocks at U.N. peacekeepers stationed there. Many feel the U.N. has not done enough to protect them. US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer says the peacekeepers have the mandate, but not the strength, to do more. "In their mandate it says they can go after negative forces. They want to interpret that as they need to protect civilians, and they do that because they don't want to be drawn into a war between the FARDC, the FDLR and the CNDP, so it's understandable why they've interpreted their mandate in the narrow fashion of protecting the civilian population," she said.
Eastern Congo has been caught in a cycle of violence for years. The current fighting is between the Congolese army, called FARDC, and the National Congress for the People' s Defense, or CNDP, led by renegade general Laurent Nkunda. Nkunda claims to be protecting Congo's Tutsi minority from the FDLR, a militia group made up of the former Rwandan military and the Interahamwe militia accused of killing over half a million Tutsis in Rwanda's 1994 genocide.
Secretary Frazer says any solution to the crisis has to be regional. "It's an important part of our policy to urge the coordination and cooperation of the Rwandan and the Congolese government to help each other to resolve the regional dimension of the crisis in the Kivus, which includes the Nairobi agreement that involves a commitment to address the FDLR, the ex-FAR/ Interahamwe," she said.
One of the major causes of fighting is the control of Congo's vast mineral wealth. Militias illegally extract those minerals to fund their operations. "I think the illegal exploitation of Congolese resources is a core part of this crisis, and I think the FDLR in particular are a part of that problem," she said.
Secretary Frazer says the United States has been committed to peace and stability in the African Great Lakes region for a long time, and has been involved in negotiations between Congo and its neighbors in Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi. She says the United States has a strong interest in resolving the conflict. "We have a humanitarian interest in it being resolved. We have a strategic interest in it being resolved. We want stability in this region. So there's a strategic reason. We also have a financial interest in it being resolved. We are members of the U.N. Security Council. We pay 27 percent dues for this big force called MONUC. Eventually there has to be an end state, and that end state is peace and stability in the region," she said.
Secretary Frazer hopes for a diplomatic solution to the crisis. She also wants to see the cease-fire hold and security for humanitarian operations in the area.