Thursday, August 26, 2004

Darfur, Congo seen test for Africa peace-Straw

CAPE TOWN, Aug 26 (Reuters) - Africa must not allow the spectre of genocide to rise again and should increase efforts to end conflicts and encourage economic growth, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said on Thursday.

Straw, on an official visit to South Africa, said the crisis in Darfur in western Sudan was Africa's biggest immediate challenge and would test the African Union's ability to promote peace via dialogue.

The U.S. Congress has declared the violence in Darfur, in which Arab militias are accused of attacking black villagers, to be genocide although the European Union has not gone so far.

Africa's last genocide was in Rwanda, where 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered by Hutu extremists in 1994.

Britain, as chief financier of Africa's military mission in Darfur, would provide more cash if asked, Straw told a public lecture in Cape Town. Britain was also awaiting a report from U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan on what he considered to be the next steps in addressing the crisis.

"The stakes are high...Africa needs to meet the test," said Straw, who visited Darfur earlier this week. "We are ready to do more (to help) if asked."

A million people have been driven from their homes and up to 50,000 killed in the Darfur conflict, the U.N. says. The AU has proposed sending some 2,000 AU troops to confine rebels to their bases while Khartoum disarms pro-government Janjaweed militia.

Straw said Africa needed to consolidate peace deals worked out by South Africa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi -- where militant Hutu rebels slaughtered 160 Congolese refugees earlier this month.

In a reference to this troubled Great Lakes region Straw said:"If Africa is to thrive, we cannot allow a conflict to smoulder at its heart, across an area the size of Europe ... Nor can we allow the spectre of genocide to hover again over the continent."

"Addressing these challenges will will help entrench stability and boost growth and development."


Straw said Britain was looking to enhance the role of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in the Congo, known by its French acronym MONUC. African leaders say MONUC should be given an Article Seven UN mandate, which allows peace enforcement.

He said a key challenge in the Congo was to disarm what are known as "negative forces", which refers to Hutu militias or former soldiers who served in the Rwandan army before the 1994 slaughter.

The Burundi massacre by the rebel Forces for National Liberation (FNL) has sparked concern that Burundi's peace process could collapse and led to fresh tensions between Rwanda and Burundi on one side and Congo on the other.

Regional leaders have branded the FNL a terrorist organisation but chief Burundi mediator and South African Deputy President Jacob Zuma said this week FNL could return to peace talks if it renounced terror activities.

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