"Congo Watchers--Have you seen this Press Release yet?" asks Taylor Walters in a comment here today at Congo Watch:
Senators Leahy and Obama Secure Key Panel's OK for Much-Needed Aid for Elections and Military Reform in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Date: April 4, 2006
Obama Contact: Robert Gibbs or Tommy Vietor, (202) 228-5511
WASHINGTON (Tuesday, April 4) -- U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.) Tuesday successfully attached an amendment to the Iraq Supplemental Appropriations bill that would provide $13.2 million for the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The amendment was cosponsored by Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Senator Mike DeWine (R-Ohio).
The amendment, drafted as part of a collaborative effort by Leahy and Obama, provides $8.2 million for military reform and $5 million to support free and fair elections in the DRC. According to the United Nations, these are two key priorities if the DRC is to make a successful transition to democratic rule and bring peace and economic development to one of the largest nations in Africa.
Obama said, "If Africa is to achieve its promise, resolving the problems in the Congo will be critical. The country, which is the size of Western Europe, lies at the geographic heart of Africa and borders every major region across the continent. If left untended, Congo's tragedy will continue to infect Africa. This amendment accepted today represents a small but important step towards bringing peace and prosperity to the Congo. I commend Senator Leahy's leadership and the Appropriations Committee on this issue"
Leahy added, "U.S. leadership to support democratic elections and reform the Congolese military will be critical if the Congo is going to overcome decades of violence and misrule. I hope this amendment, by demonstrating that the United States is serious about supporting the Congo, will encourage all nations to join in a sustained effort in the country that holds the key to stability in central Africa. The UN peacekeeping mission deserves a great deal of credit for the progress that has been made so far."
The elections, scheduled for later this year, are the first in more than four decades. They represent by far the largest elections that the UN has ever assisted, in a vast country with minimal infrastructure, few roads and an electorate of more than 25 million people. The election breakthrough is the result of years of negotiations to reduce the fighting in the DRC, which involved five international peace agreements and more than 30 UN Security Council resolutions.
The amendment represents a growing concern in Congress about the DRC's future. In December, comprehensive legislation on the Congo, S. 2125, was introduced by Senators Obama, Brownback, Durbin, and DeWine.