10 June 1999
RICE DOES NOT RULE OUT U.S. ROLE IN CONGO PEACEKEEPING PHASE
(Briefs Senate Africa Subcommittee on Congo-Kinshasa conflict) (1060) By Jim Fisher-Thompson USIA Staff Writer WASHINGTON -- Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Susan Rice has not ruled out the possibility of U.S. involvement in a peacekeeping force in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DROC) once a diplomatic settlement is reached in the civil war that has embroiled nine African nations in the region. In testimony June 8 before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's Subcommittee on African Affairs, Rice said, "Any sustainable resolution of the DROC conflict will require successful implementation" of several processes, including a cease-fire among all parties, a security pact among regional states, and "an open and inclusive internal political process" within Congo. In addition, she said, "a settlement may require the insertion of an international peacekeeping presence to monitor the cease-fire, eventual withdrawal of foreign troops, and the exchange of prisoners, as well as [to] lend confidence to the Congolese during the transition." In the question-and-answer period following her testimony, Rice emphasized that it is critical that the United States remain engaged in helping Africans reach a settlement over the Congo crisis because "it has the potential to infect other regions" on the continent. She added that "there is a great deal we can and must do that can be effective far short of military intervention in a number of African conflicts, and we will continue to do so." Africa Subcommittee Chairman Bill Frist (Republican - Tennessee) set the tone for the hearing when he said: "The continent of Africa has great importance to the United States, and the changes we see on the continent should be viewed as opportunities. For many reasons, the complex, confounding, and rapid developments in Central Africa are critically important in appraising those opportunities and in defining our national interests and policy goals." The civil war that broke out last August has at one time or another involved both Congos, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Angola, Sudan, and Namibia, as well as the rebel movement in Congo and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). UNITA is fighting in Angola and has also aided the Congolese rebels in their war against the government of President Laurent Kabila. Striking an optimistic note, Rice told the lawmakers that there has been a "shift in thinking" among the players in the conflict "in favor of political and diplomatic action, versus overwhelming reliance on armed force." The result was a recent agreement signed by Libya, Congo, Uganda, and Chad "calling for a cessation of hostilities, the deployment of an African peacekeeping force, and the withdrawal of Rwandan and Ugandan troops" and a unilateral decision by Rwanda to cease military action. Rice added that the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has become "the accepted vehicle for ending the conflict, with Zambian President [Frederick] Chiluba assuming the leading role." Asked by subcommittee member Russ Feingold (Democrat - Wisconsin) whether a U.S. role in peacekeeping was being requested by the Africans involved, Rice said: "It is a point that comes up.... But when one delves a little deeper into the question...beneath the rhetoric...and asks, 'Well, what precisely do you want the United States to do?' the answer is rarely different from the sorts of assistance we [already] are providing: humanitarian assistance, diplomatic engagement, and support of regional peacekeeping efforts, as we're trying to do in the case of ECOMOG (Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group) and the African Crisis Response Initiative [ACRI]." Senator Feingold asked to what extent the Defense Department would provide "logistical support" to a possible peacekeeping force in the Congo. First, said Rice, "whether or not a peacekeeping force is requested or required will soon be a subject for the negotiating parties themselves to determine in the context of the cease-fire agreement. They have signaled that they are likely to ask for international support for the peacekeeping presence. That presence may begin as an OAU [Organization of African Unity]-sponsored effort in the short term because it may be more feasible to launch such an effort in the short term. It is conceivable that the parties to the conflict would then ask the United Nations to play a follow-on peacekeeping role." The United States "has not taken a position formally on support for such a peacekeeping operation because at this stage it is a hypothetical," she explained. "We would need important answers to questions about its mandate, its scope, duration, and cost before we could make an informed decision on that. "Nevertheless," said Rice, President Clinton "has indicated, in his own words, in public remarks that he recognizes that this [support for peacekeeping] is a possibility and in the right circumstances we would want to give careful consideration to support for such a peacekeeping entity." Asked by Feingold, "So our involvement has not been ruled out in advance?" Rice repeated: "No decisions have been made on that and, frankly, only one person can make that decision and I am not he [President Clinton]." Feingold, who said he has been interested in ACRI since its inception more than two years ago, asked Rice if it has been successful and wondered, "Can we expect it to be able to function in a meaningful situation at some point in the future?" Noting that the "initiative is progressing well," Rice reminded the senators that the objective of ACRI is to train a substantial number of African peacekeeping troops -- 10,000 to 12,000 -- for peacekeeping and humanitarian operations "so that they can come together with common communications, be interoperable, rapidly deployable, and effective in the field with a command and control structure that will allow them to be viable. "It is a building-block process," she said, and "so far, the United States has trained some 5,500 to 6,000 such peacekeepers from six countries." In addition to the initial ACRI training program offered to the Africans, Rice explained that "we are now working to take training up to a higher level, from the battalion to brigade levels and possibly beyond. At the same time, we will continue to welcome the participation of other [African] countries that meet a standard of capability and respect for human rights and democratic norms that have been the basis of our training to date."
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