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PRESS BRIEFING ON RECENT DEVELOPMENTS IN DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

4 May 2005

With full deployment of the eastern division of the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) throughout the Ituri district and North and South Kivu provinces, the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo had significantly improved, but still remained volatile, correspondents were told at a Headquarters press briefing this afternoon.

Updating the press on recent developments in the Democratic Republic of the Congo were François Dureau, Chief, Situation Centre, Office of Operations, Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO); and Margaret Carey, Principal Officer, Africa Division, Office of Operations, DPKO.

Mr. Dureau said that stabilization operations had been undertaken in the eastern part of the country. The mission of the eastern division was to deter challenges to the overall transitional process through proactive operations, improve the security environment and establish conditions for the elections, reducing the possibility of disruptions by any party. The United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) was also providing coordination and support to the Government units deployed in Ituri and the Kivus. The process of so-called “brassage” had been initiated, under which ex-combatants from various armed groups were trained and integrated into the army of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The first integrated brigade, trained and equipped by Belgium and South Africa, had been deployed in March. It was now working in support of MONUC activities.

In Ituri, there was now a full-fledged brigade with four battalions from Nepal, Pakistan, Morocco and Bangladesh, he continued. Of course, those battalions could not cover the full territory of Ituri, but they were operating in the key areas of the district. In the Kivus, there was one brigade per province -- one from India and one from Pakistan. They were supported by combat support services, which included administrative, logistic and air transport elements, as well as attack helicopters.

Among the main achievements over the past two months, he mentioned the newly-acquired presence in locations previously inaccessible to the United Nations. The Mission’s military operations were supported by community outreach activities, which included construction of roads and medical support to the population. Disarmament and reintegration programmes were “going quite well”, with over 11,500 ex-combatants having participated in them, some 3,600 of them child soldiers. One of the major indicators of success was the fact that the number of ex-combatants participating in the programmes had practically doubled over the last three weeks.

Highlighting the political issues related to the preparations for elections and repatriation of foreign elements, Ms. Carey said the focus was now on the framework for the elections. In accordance with the transitional constitution, elections were to be held two years following the inauguration of the Transitional Government, that is, in June 2005. However, some of the elements required towards that end, including the new constitution and electoral law, were not yet in place, and technical preparations on the ground had been delayed. In a country the size of Western Europe, with an estimated electorate of 28 million people, “but without roads”, there were major challenges to the implementation of electoral operations. So far, registration for the elections had not yet started. It was due to begin in June.

The National Assembly was now reviewing the draft constitution, which had been passed to it on 17 March by the Senate. On 28 April, the Independent Electoral Commission had submitted to the National Assembly a report outlining the progress in the preparations for the elections. Based on that report, the Government would have to make a decision as to whether the scheduled date of elections would be met. It was her understanding that the Government would soon make an announcement about the electoral timetable and possible extension of the transitional process. In the meanwhile, a lot of work was being done to educate the population and explain their rights and duties to the electorate and the political parties. In the coming weeks, the Secretary-General was expected to present a report on the matter to the Security Council.

To several questions on the elections, she said that the decision on the date and time line of the elections was not up to the United Nations. It was up to the Government to tell the world when it would happen and how, and the UN supported the Government. In terms of implementing the transitional peace agreement, the UN was in consultation with members of the National Assembly and the Government, providing them with advice. The Organization’s views on some of the constitutional issues were very strong -- it was important to ensure the representative nature of the elected Government, which should provide for a stable political process following the elections.

As for the voluntary disarmament and repatriation of foreign elements that had been in the country since 1994, she said that it was part of MONUC’s mandate. It was also part of the ceasefire agreement between the parties themselves, as well as withdrawal of foreign troops from the country. To date, MONUC had repatriated about 7,000 combatants with their family members, bringing the total up to 11,000. Although the voluntary aspect of that programme had stalled, with many hard-liners not allowing their forces to go back, negotiations with foreign leaders had continued throughout the first part of the year. On 31 March, the Force Démocratique de Libération duRwanda had issued a statement committing to voluntary repatriation and disarmament, and MONUC had set up structures on the ground to facilitate that process.

Responding to other questions, she said that the main threats to security emanated from uncontrolled armed groups in Ituri and Kiwu provinces, as well as breaches in law and order in big cities. MONUC efforts to ensure security would continue, but it was also important to create “normal governance systems”, in terms of both security and customs and revenue collection. In addition to the MONUC presence, it was necessary to further develop the Congolese police and armed forces. To ensure successful integration of ex-combatants, it was necessary to provide them with salaries and means of sustenance. Once a decent integration process was established and salaries were paid, additional people would get into the disarmament and reintegration programme.

“Bottom line, this is a political issue”, she said. That was where MONUC, regional organizations and individual MemberStates were working closely with the Congolese to make sure that they accepted the code of conduct and the results of forthcoming elections, which should be of a free and fair nature.

Asked if neighbouring countries had stopped interfering in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, she said that in its public statements, the Government of Uganda supported MONUC and the efforts to create security in Ituri. However, there were continued reports of that country’s private citizens “acting in such ways that do not support that process”. Those reports were being investigated.

To a query about the adequacy of the MONUC presence in the eastern part of the country, Mr. Dureau said that while a relatively small force for such a huge area, MONUC was not engaged in full-fledged combat operations on a daily basis. However, it was possible that with forthcoming elections, tensions could increase. Overall, the situation was now well under control, but still remained quite hostile. The level of troops authorized by the Council was still minimal to address the situation, should it deteriorate again.

Regarding cooperation between MONUC and the International Criminal Court in tracking down the perpetrators of violence in the country, Ms. Carey said that a memorandum of understanding was being developed between those two bodies, which was mostly limited to the Mission’s logistic support for the Court, on a reimbursement basis.

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