Briefing on the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

Defence

22 June 2006
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JOINT STANDING COMMITTEE ON DEFENCE

JOINT STANDING COMMITTEE ON DEFENCE
23 JUNE 2006
BRIEFING ON THE SITUATION IN THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO (DRC)

Acting Chairperson:
Mr N Fihla (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Briefing to the Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Defence
Briefing to the Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Defence (zipped full version)

SUMMARY
Ambassador William Lacy Swing (Special UN representative for the Democratic Republic of the Congo) addressed the Joint Standing Committee on the United Nations (UN) mission in the Democratic republic of Congo (DRC). He summarised the importance of giving assistance, the challenges and achievements encountered. He tabled figures on finances, military presence, elections, and voting. He outlined the challenges in the election and post-election process, and stated that the UN would hope to maintain engagement with the Congo, move to peace building, ensure future democratic elections and overcome problems involving the IMF and World Bank. He outlined the requirements of post-election stability were outlined and stated that the expectation gap would need to be met.

Questions posed by members related to the deaths of UN troops, the support enjoyed by the rebels, whether South African troops had been involved in misconduct or violations, post-election cooperation, security measures, the role of peacekeeping forces when attacked by rebels, and the election processes.

MINUTES
Ambassador William Lacy Swing (Special UN representative for the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)) reported that the UN missions in Sudan and the DRC were the UN`s largest peace keeping and electoral missions because the DRC’s population exceeded 50 million in DRC and 40 million people in Sudan. The size of the DRC had raised the issue of cost and sustainability in terms of peace keeping. The mission in DRC had cost $1.13 billion dollars.

A number of reasons were listed why it was vital to assist the DRC. On the humanitarian side, the country had lost about 4 million people with a further 4 million people have internally been displaced. At least 1.7 million people were HIV positive and 200 000 or more were land mine victims. DRC was the only part of Africa that had lacked political stability since independence. However, it was an economic powerhouse, holding 10 to 12% of the world’s hydroelectric power, more than 50% of tropical forests remaining in Africa, and significant deposits of gold and diamonds. Success in Congo would infer in success in other African countries.

The DRC had apparently received international support aid of $ 5 billion, despite the huge risks. The UN had lost 33 soldiers, 79 were wounded and 7 others were held by rebel groups. The mission in DRC was an African process, and showed some success with bills being passed in parliament and a new referendum having been approved. 25.6 million people had registered to vote, some of them walking 40 kilometers to do so.  South Africa was reportedly assisting the transition to democracy in the DRC by providing and importing the ballot papers to the DRC.

The UN’s core goals included election and stability, peace and security, addressing the legacy of war, and mission support and reform.

The challenges included the size of the country and electorate, stringent deadlines, strict and unrealistic political constraints, the need for civic education, a tense political environment, security concerns, credibility of the court and the arrangements for transporting cash.   Achievements to date included registration of 25.6 million voters, adoption of a new constitution, political party coverage granted to 278 political parties. The statistics on candidates and voters were tabled. 

Ambassador Swing tabled the details of troops in the area, and mentioned that 150 000 Congolese combatants were to be demobilized, necessitating more international support for army and police.  UN provided radio information and civic education, also informing troops to disarm. 
Thus far $458 million dollars had been paid into the DRC, and still the UN was $40 million short with costs increasing with delays.

Ambassador Swing outlined and explained the challenges, which included discipline issues, humanitarian issues, regional relations, displaced groups and integration of the army.

The new mission after election would include maintaining engagement with the Congo, moving to peace building, ensuring future democratic elections and overcoming problems involving the IMF and World Bank. The requirements of post-election stability were outlined, and he stated that it was important to meet the expectation gap of voters. He tabled and explained the peace building blocks.  

Discussion

Mr L Diale (ANC) asked which troops had been killed in the peacekeeping mission.

Amb Swing replied that 9 were from Bangladesh, and 7 Guatemalans had been killed in Sudan. The others were killed at different times. 

Mr J Tolo (ANC) asked how strong the rebels were and if they had civic support. He also queried if there was good knowledge of the local languages.

Amb Swing was not sure about the support given to rebels. In regard to language, he replied that most people could speak at least one of the languages, so communication was not generally a problem except in some isolated cases.

Mr S Ntuli (ANC) asked if South African troops had been involved in the rapes and other violation.

Amb Swing responded that some South African troops had been involved in acts of misconduct but generally South African troops had performed well.

Mr Ntuli asked if there was any way to assist voters to reach polling stations.

Mr A Moseki (ANC) enquired if there would be post election cooperation.

AmbSwing replied that there would be an attempt to avoid a “winner take all” attitude after elections to increase the chances of a proper democracy.

In answer to a query about the security measures between the Eastern and North East part of the DRC, Amb Swing explained that troops would be moved around to accommodate areas facing a security threat.

Several members posed questions on the peacekeeping forces’ contact with rebels, and their role if civilians were attacked.  

Amb Swing reported that the peacekeeping troops were allowed to fight rebels if they were attacked, or in order to protect civilians who were being attacked.

Ms A Van Wyk (ANC) enquired as to the credibility of the electoral process, and if sufficient personnel were in place.

Amb Swing replied that there were 3000 poll workers being trained, and this was considered sufficient to go through the electoral process.

In answer to questions as to the Congolese in South Africa, Amb Swing reported that they would remain in South Africa, but there would be no external ballots.  If people had not registered to vote by now, it would be too late for them to vote. However, there would be future elections for the provincial assembly that was being created.

In answer to a query on progress with disarmament of troops, Amb Swing clarified that there was currently a process of building a new army, although this was slow, and there were not many resources available to the troops after they completed training.

The meeting adjourned.
 







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