03 February 1999
UGANDA IS IN CONGO FOR GOOD REASONS, SAYS MINISTER MBABAZI
(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 one." 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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