The UN Security Council has voiced its support of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) in its efforts to find a lasting solution to the violence in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, The New Times has learned.
The members backed the regional peace plan following a briefing by Rwanda's Foreign Affairs minister Louise Mushikiwabo at the UN Headquarters in New York, yesterday. The briefing dwelt on the recent developments in the region, especially ICGLR-led efforts to pacify the restive eastern DRC, in the wake of the conflict between government army and the newly formed M23 rebels.
"All UNSC members welcomed the ongoing process within the ICGLR. They have also encouraged Rwanda to continue bilateral dialogue, including through the extended Joint Verification Mechanism. They look forward to the next ICGLR (Heads of State) summit of September 7-8," Olivier Nduhungirehe, First Counsellor Permanent Mission of the Republic of Rwanda to the United Nations, told this newspaper shortly after the briefing.
"The spirit was positive and forward looking," the diplomat said without divulging more details.
Rwanda's national interest is "served by peace and sustainable security in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and harmed by anything less", Mushikiwabo said in her briefing.
Mushikiwabo was speaking a day after Rwanda officially presented to the UN sanctions committee on DRC its rebuttal to allegations that it backs the M23 rebels.
Minister Mushikiwabo asked the UNSC to move away from blame and instead support a political solution, through ICGLR.
"If for no other reason, Rwanda is not involved in the eastern DRC because instability in that region represents a direct threat to our own national interest.
"As sure as night follows day, conflict in the DRC will invariably lead to accusations against Rwanda as it has done to spectacular and potentially devastating effect in this instance," Mushikiwabo said in a statement to the Security Council.
"At a bare minimum, it represents a threat to our hard-won reputation among member-states. But, far beyond merely that, the result of this instability is that it undermines the social and economic progress of Rwanda".
She said: "The people of Rwanda seek peace and stability not for its own sake, but because they are indispensable prerequisites for expanding social and economic opportunity for our citizens.
"The Rwandan people are too focused on advancing down that path to dare risk taking a backward leap, which is the accusation leveled against us."
The accusations emerged over two months ago from an addendum to an interim UN Group of Experts (on DRC), which had no input from the Rwandan government, with Kigali accusing its architects of failing to observe "minimum standard of impartiality and fairness".
"Rwanda had no genuine opportunity to present its rebuttal to the litany of allegations contained in the addendum to the interim report until it had been leaked to the media and presented to the Sanctions Committee...This is clear breach of Sections 9 (a) and 28 of the "Report of the Informal Working Group of the Security Council on General Issues of Sanctions" (S/2006/997)," Mushikiwabo told the Security Council.
She particularly raised questions about the credibility of the Group's coordinator, Steve Hege, who she said "regards the Rwandan government as illegitimate foreigners - Ugandan Tutsi elite is his phrase - in language eerily familiar to survivors and students of the Genocide" against the Tutsi.
"He (Hege) believes the FDLR are (a) predominantly victims, and not perpetrators, of violence, (b) represent no serious threat (despite the latest massacre occurring on August 10, 2012) and (c.) legitimate actors (far from terrorists, in direct contravention of multiple UNSC resolutions) whose place at the table will only come about once (direct quote) "international opinion sours on the Rwandan regime," Mushikiwabo said in reference to an article by Hege, published on February 24, 2009.
FDLR or the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda is a blacklisted terrorist group based in eastern Congo whose members are largely blamed for the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, which claimed the lives of more than a million Rwandans. The group is also accused of committing human atrocities in the Congo, for which its supreme field commander Sylivestre Mudacumura is wanted by the International Criminal Court.
Mushikiwabo said, "It is both ironic and remarkable that, through his appointment to this most sensitive and elevated position, Mr Hege has, a mere three years after he wrote these words, found himself in a position to bring his prophecy to life".
"All this begs the question: how is it possible the vetting process at the UN did not capture these incendiary writings? And, if they did indeed capture them, how did they not immediately disqualify Steven Hege from consideration for membership in, let alone leadership of, the Group of Experts?" the minister posed.
The foreign affairs minister expressed confidence in ICGLR's approach to the Congo crisis, describing it as an effective mechanism. "This is demonstrated by the current cease-fire which has been in place for approximately a month."
"We also believe it promises to deliver a sustainable solution since it involves all of DRC's neighbours who each have a direct stake in regional peace and security," she added.
ICGLR, composed of 11 regional countries, has drawn up a plan to deploy a neutral African force in the Congo, which would help disarm armed groups in the region, including FDLR.
The bloc also expanded the Joint Verification Mechanism to all ICGLR member states and is set to begin its work on September 5, according to the minister.
Details about the proposed force were put together by a subcommittee composed of defence ministers from seven member states, during a recent meeting in Goma, Eastern DRC. The ministers forwarded their proposal to ICGLR Chairperson, Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni, for eventual consideration during the upcoming Heads of State and Government Summit.
Allegations of Rwanda's links with M23 rebels, who have seized parts of North Kivu province since fighting erupted in April, have since led some donors to either suspend or cut aid to Rwanda.
The rebel group, which recently announced a unilateral ceasefire a move it said was out of respect for President Museveni-led peace efforts, is largely composed of former Congolese soldiers who mutinied in April after the collapse of a 2009 peace deal between then CNDP rebels and Kinshasa. Kigali had helped broker that deal.
The rebels, who accuse President Joseph Kabila's government of reneging on its commitments under that accord, have since called for peace talks with Kinshasa but the latter has rejected their call.
The UN Security Council is composed of 15 member states, five of which are permanent members, namely China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Then 10 non-permanent members are elected for a two-year term.