African Nations and U.N. Offer Plan to Stabilize Congo

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NAIROBI, Kenya -- Leaders of several African countries and United Nations officials on Sunday announced a new "framework" to tackle instability in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a war-torn country that has become synonymous with suffering and has eluded countless attempts to build a lasting peace over the years.

The new effort calls for greater cooperation between Congo's neighbors -- several of which are suspected of sponsoring violence inside Congo -- and political changes by the Congolese government. United Nations and African officials are also proposing a new beefed-up "peace enforcement" brigade of about 2,000 soldiers to go after rebel groups in Congo.

"We can only put an end to recurring cycles of violence through an innovative approach," said Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations, who witnessed the signing of the peace framework in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Sunday.

But many Congo analysts doubt that this agreement, by itself, is going to make much of a difference in a place where myriad rebel groups haunt the hills, massacring civilians and raping women with impunity.

"If not accompanied by the swift appointment of a U.N. envoy and the initiation of a focused peace process between Congo, Rwanda and Uganda led by that U.N. envoy, this framework agreement will end up having no impact on ending the violence in eastern Congo," said John Prendergast, co-founder of the Enough Project, a nonprofit anti-genocide group.

Parts of Congo, especially in the east, along the borders with Uganda and Rwanda, have been mired in various degrees of rebellion and mayhem since the mid-1990s, when rebel groups overthrew Mobutu Sese Seko, a Western-backed dictator who set new standards for wanton corruption. Congo is home to vast mineral riches, and many rebel groups who now control territory sustain their brutality by seizing minerals or taxing the mineral trade.

This fall, a relatively new rebel outfit, called the March 23 Movement, or M23, captured the provincial capital of Goma, though under intense international pressure it soon pulled out. United Nations investigators have accused Rwanda and Uganda of providing covert support to the M23.

The United Nations has more than 17,000 military personnel in Congo, but the peacekeepers have been roundly criticized for being too passive. Several African countries, including Tanzania and Mozambique, have discussed contributing troops to a new intervention brigade to confront and disarm rebel groups in Congo. The plan is for the new brigade to work with the other peacekeepers but engage in combat more often.

But analysts warn that this new brigade, which still needs to be approved by the United Nations Security Council, will be effective only if it is willing to go toe-to-toe with rebel fighters and take heavy casualties -- as peacekeepers from Uganda and Burundi have been doing in Somalia, with some success. Many observers say the United Nations has so far been unwilling to do this in Congo.

Jason Stearns, the author of a recent, well-regarded book on Congo and a blog that is considered required reading by Congophiles, said there had not been a genuine peace process in Congo since 2006.

"So are we back in a peace process?" Mr. Stearns asks on his blog. "Not really. Or more precisely: We don't know yet. The agreement is more a statement of principles than a concrete action plan."

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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