African leaders meet on Congo conflict
African leaders from the Great Lakes region were meeting Saturday in Addis Ababa to discuss the rapidly changing conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).- - -
The meeting, held on the eve of the African Union (AU) summit in the Ethiopian capital, had been designed as peace talks between the Congolese government in Kinshasa and rebels led by ethnic Tutsi Laurent Nkunda.
But just days ago, on January 20, Congolese and Rwandan soldiers launched a joint offensive in the eastern DRC, officially against the Rwandan Hutu rebels of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).
However, Nkunda became the raid's first casualty and was arrested near the border after falling from grace with his erstwhile backers in Kigali.
The renegade general's arrest and extradition have turned the Addis meeting on its head, and the summit of the Great Lakes Region on the DR Congo now aims to "examine the progress made toward finding solutions to the security situation in the eastern DRC," according to a statement.
Eleven countries were taking part in the talks -- Angola, Burundi, the Central African Republic, the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville), the DRC, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia, according to the statement.
"Despite these latest developments in the DR Congo, which seem to indicate very encouraging possibilities for ending hostilities, the humanitarian situation for the people remains uncertain and worrying," said Jean Ping, the head of the African Union commission.
Major fighting broke out in August in the eastern DRC between the army and Nkunda's rebels, causing tens of thousands more residents to flee in a region already torn by conflict.
Intense international pressure led to the opening of talks on December 8 in Nairobi between Nkunda's forces and the Congolese government.
Since the launch of the joint DRC-Rwanda operation, the UN mission in the DRC, known as MONUC, said that Rwandan Hutu rebels had begun returning home.
From APA News (Addis Ababa, Ethiopia) Saturday 31 January 2009:
NEPAD mini-summit kicks off in Ethiopian capital
The 20th New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) mini-summit kicked off on Saturday in Addis Ababa in the presence of several African leaders.- - -
The summit, also known as the NEPAD Heads of States and Government Implementation Committee (HSGIC) have gathered to discuss mainly the integration of NEPAD into the African Union structures and processes and the appointment of a new Chief of Executive Officer to head the NEPAD secretariat and its successor entity.
NEPAD is one of the regional initiatives advocating for more development programs for Africa in collaboration with African partners. A number of international communities are currently supporting this initiative, which is believed to bring more resources to the continent.
Leaders from Ethiopia, Sudan, South Africa, and Namibia among others are attending the ongoing closed session.
Jean Ping told the gathering of heads of state that the integration process of NEPAD to the AU process had been slow until the 19th meeting of the HSGIC in Sharm –El-Sheikh in Egypt in June last year which mandated the AU commission to speed up the work on integration and report to this summit.
“It is in this respect that I wish to report progress on the work being undertaken so far. Notable strides have been made to accelerate the integration of NEPAD into the AU structures. These include, amongst others; the recent signing of the host agreement with South Africa, which now accords the NEPAD secretariat and its successor entity the status of an AU office outside the headquarters, “said Ping.
Ping also indicated that the implementation of the host agreement by the joint technical team of the South African authorities, the AU Commission, the NEPAD secretariat, and the Development Bank of South Africa are also among other progress achieved so far as part of NEAPD’s integration process to the AU.
“Regarding the study on the integration of NEPAD into the AU structures and processes, I regret to inform you that work did not start on time as planned owing to some problems, particularly identifying sources of funding for the study,” Ping added.
However, Ping indicated that the commission finally secured the necessary funding, which enabled them to re-launch the tender.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi who is chairing the forum said that the global financial crisis will have an impact in the integration process of NEPAD into the AU structure.
Meles indicated that there is a need to revise NEPAD’s strategy plans to tackle the problem, whose integration process is at the right track.
“We have gathered here today at a time when the world is facing a global economic crisis, which will help us see the matter in detail,” PM Meles said. DT/daj/APA
From Bloomberg by Franz Wild Saturday 31 January 2009
Congo’s Kabila Sets Exit Deadline for Rwandan, Ugandan Troops
Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila said troops from neighboring Rwanda and Uganda will leave the country within a month, rejecting criticism of operations to hunt foreign rebel groups.- - -
Rwandan soldiers will withdraw by the end of February, while those from Uganda will pull out by Feb. 14, Kabila said today in the capital, Kinshasa. Rwandan forces entered the country on Jan. 20 to disarm Hutu rebels, whose leader sought refuge in the eastern North and South Kivu provinces after their alleged involvement in Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.
Inviting Rwandan soldiers “was a difficult decision, but we needed a solution,” Kabila said. It has been “an exceptional solution for an exceptional situation,” he said, referring to a conflict that has gripped the central African country’s east for 13 years.
“The units that came to participate in these operations will return to Rwanda as planned,” Kabila said, adding the operations were progressing.
Kabila has struggled to fulfill on a promise to establish peace in eastern North Kivu, where Tutsi-led rebels last year trounced his army, displacing 250,000 people. United Nations investigators late last year said Rwanda was supporting the same group, the National Congress for the Defense of the People, or CNDP.
Disarming the Hutu rebels, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwandan, or FDLR, goes hand-in-hand with neutralizing the CNDP, Kabila said. The CNDP says it is defending the Tutsi minority against the FDLR.
The extradition of CNDP leader Laurent Nkunda, who was arrested in Rwanda on Jan. 22 after his number two claimed to have ousted him, would take time, Kabila said.
“There is a political and diplomatic process,” Kabila said. “On the judiciary level we are working on his extradition.”
Kabila said separate joint operations with Uganda’s army in Congo’s north-eastern borderlands with Sudan, aimed at smoking out Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army rebels, has yielded “quite positive” results.
To contact the reporter on this story: Franz Wild in Kinshasa via Johannesburg firstname.lastname@example.org
From Associated Press by Eddy Isango (KINSHASA) 31 January 2009:
Congo: Rwanda, Uganda troops to leave in February:
Congo's president said Saturday that troops from former enemies Rwanda and Uganda, who are carrying out joint operations against armed militias in the east, must leave this Central African nation by the end of February.- - -
Ugandan soldiers have been fighting Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army rebels in the northeast since December, while Rwandan troops were invited in this month to hunt down Rwandan militias linked to that nation's 1994 genocide.
President Joseph Kabila made the announcement in the capital, Kinshasa, telling reporters the foreign armies' presence "must not last beyond the month of February."
Ugandan and Rwandan troops invaded in 1998 and seized the eastern half of the country, ostensibly to fight insurgents opposed to their governments. But the two nations became involved in a hunt for mineral riches, turning their guns on each other in three separate battles in the diamond-rich northern city of Kisangani. Hundreds of civilians were killed.
Uganda and Rwanda withdrew after a 2002 peace deal allowed their rebel proxies to occupy top posts in a Congolese unity government.
Kabila won elections two years ago, and has struggled to end continual violence and extend central government authority in the lawless east of his Europe-sized nation.
Some of the worst violence has hit the northeast, where the U.N. and human rights groups say Ugandan rebels have massacred more than 700 people over the last month in apparent retaliation for a military offensive waged against them since mid-December by soldiers from Congo, Uganda and Sudan.
Further south, around the provincial capital, Goma, Tutsi rebels led by Laurent Nkunda seized a large territory of hilly pastureland in fighting last fall that forced 250,000 people from their homes.
This month, though, senior commanders and his longtime ally, Rwanda, betrayed Nkunda, accusing him of being a megalomanic who embezzled from rebel coffers. In a surprise move, Rwanda detained Nkunda as part of a deal between the two nations that has allowed Rwanda to send thousands of troops across the border into Congo, where they are conducting a joint military offensive aimed at disarming the Rwandan Hutu militias. The offensive was initially supposed to last 10 to 15 days.
As part of the deal, rebels of a splinter faction led by Bosco Ntaganda said they would operate under army command and eventually integrate into army ranks. Rights groups have called for Ntaganda to be extradited to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, where he is wanted for the alleged forced conscription of child soldiers several years ago.
Analysts speculate Ntaganda may have brokered a deal to avoid being tried abroad, and Kabila implied his government was not going to pursue him. Speaking about Ntaganda's fate, Kabila said his country's options were "expedited international justice or peace and security for our people in the east."
"For me, the choice is clear," Kabila said. "The choice is stability and security."
Kabila also said it was not enough to detain Nkunda. "We must completely decapitate the mafia that has installed itself in the east," he said.
No news of LRA's deputy commander Okot Odhiambo
From Peter Eichstaedt's blog Saturday 31 January 2009 - excerpt:
No news is bad news
Despite the flurry of stories over the past couple of days on the defection and pending surrender of Okot Odhiambo, the deputy commander of the Lord's Resistance Army, we have heard nothing in the past 48 hours.
Photo: A uniformed Odhiambo is pictured above in the lower center, with former LRA deputy commander Vincent Otti to the left, whom rebel commander Joseph Kony reportedly executed in October 2007.
Peter Eichstaedt took this photo at one of the meetings between the LRA and former peace talks mediator Riek Machar, in July 2006, not far from Kony's camp near the border of South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.