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USIS Washington 

03 February 1999


(Describes military involvement at CSIS forum) (840)
By Jim Fisher-Thompson
USIA Staff Writer
WASHINGTON -- Uganda is involved in the current crisis in
Congo/Kinshasa only to ensure its security and forestall a recurrence
of the 1994 genocide that killed hundreds of thousands in the region,
Ugandan Minister of State for Regional Cooperation Amama Mbabazi told
Africanists February 2.
Referring to Uganda's role in the conflict, which began with a revolt
of Congolese army units in eastern Congo last August and now involves
most of Congo's neighbors, Mbabazi acknowledged that "Uganda has
troops in Congo."
But they are there, he explained, purely in a "defensive" stance meant
to counter "threats and attacks from the territory of Congo" into
Uganda by the Sudanese-backed Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), whose
aim, he said, is to destabilize Uganda by "overthrowing the
'non-Islamic' [secular] government" of President Yoweri Museveni.
Mbabazi, who is a former Ugandan minister of defense, spoke at a forum
on the Great Lakes sponsored by the Center for Strategic and
International Studies (CSIS). His listeners included former Ambassador
to Gabon and Director of African Affairs in the National Security
Council (NSC) Joe Wilson, former U.S. Ambassador to Uganda Bob Houdek,
former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs Jim
Woods, and Ugandan Ambassador to the U.S. Edith Ssempala.
The official explained that Ugandan troops first went into Congo as
the result of an agreement signed with President Laurent Kabila in
March 1998. It allowed two Ugandan battalions to operate inside Congo
against ADF forces making cross-border forays into Uganda. "That's how
our military got into Congo," he said.
Unfortunately, "Mr. Kabila did not stop the destabilization of Uganda
from Congo," which his predecessor Mobutu Sese Seko furthered by
striking an alliance with Sudan after 1994, and Sudanese-backed forces
"remained very active against Uganda," Mbabazi said. So "we deployed
more forces in the north and northeast Congo to deny Sudanese supply
lines access to the ADF."
Disclaiming any direct involvement by Ugandan forces in the Congolese
struggle, Mbabazi said, "When the army mutinied in the east, what did
we do?" The Ugandans, he said, had two choices: put the mutiny down or
continue fighting the ADF. "We chose the latter," he said, because the
rebels "allowed us to continue operations against the ADF."
Asked to comment on rumors that a son of former Ugandan dictator Idi
Amin, fighting with the Congolese army, was captured by rebel forces
at Kindu last October, Mbabazi reported that "he escaped and has been
sighted in Gbadolite," Mobutu's former stronghold.
Another compelling reason for Uganda's involvement in the Congo
crisis, Mbabazi said, was to ensure that the type of genocide the
world witnessed in Rwanda in 1994 would not occur again. "After
fishing out 60,000 bodies from Lake Victoria coming from Rwanda, we
affirmed that we would never tolerate genocide," Mbabazi said.
Yet, the potential for a recurrence was real, the official said,
because both Mobutu and Kabila had incited their people to attack
members of the Tutsi ethnic group in Congo while harboring Rwandan
killers, called genocidaires. The mainly Hutu genocidaires fled to
eastern Congo in 1994 after being expelled from Rwanda with the help
of the Ugandan government. Operating then from refugee camps, the
Hutus kept making attacks into Rwanda.
Saying he thought a military solution to the crisis in Congo was
elusive, Mbabazi added, "We believe it is possible to find a peaceful,
negotiated settlement" to the conflict. After all, "we still recognize
Kabila" as the head of Congo's government, he pointed out, and
"President Museveni is always ready to meet with him, even one on
Mbabazi stressed, however, that a lasting solution to the problem of
Congolese disunity, bequeathed by Mobutu, and an end to what U.S.
officials have called "Africa's First World War," could not be
achieved without holding "a national conference that includes Congo's
political movements."
Uganda has "nothing against the people of Congo, its government, or
even President Kabila," Mbabazi told his audience, but the Ugandan
government could not allow Congo to be used as "a rear base for
terrorist groups" operating against its people.
Asked at a January White House press conference where the U.S.
government stood on the question of Congo's territorial integrity, the
office of the press secretary released a statement stating: "Since the
war in the Congo began August 2, 1998, we have continually condemned
the violation of Congo's territorial integrity and sovereignty, and
underscored the importance of Congo remaining as a unified nation. Our
position has not changed.
"We have urged all parties in the conflict to reach a political
settlement under a framework that would include a cease-fire and
addressing the underlying reasons for the conflict, such as border
security, and having a more open and inclusive political process in
the Congo. We have also pressed all sides in the conflict to protect
the lives and human rights of all non-combatants."

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