Roundup: Africa pushes for control of peace efforts in war-ravaged eastern DR Congo

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Chiefs of defense forces from Africa's Great Lakes region and Southern Africa Development Community met here on Sunday to finalize a military strategy to eliminate negative forces in war torn eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Behind the scene negotiations indicate the intricate position Africa is in to stay in charge of the peace efforts in eastern DRC after what may be termed as failed international efforts to make the guns silent.

Drumming up Pan Africanism and Africa being in charge of its future, Uganda's Minister of Defense Crispus Kiyonga told the defense chiefs that they must remain united and stick to the continent's long held view of providing solutions to its problems.

Kiyonga said in the face of regional efforts to end fighting in eastern DRC, there are opposing powers who still want to be in charge of pacifying the mineral rich central African country.

Following the flaring up of fighting in eastern DRC between the government troops and the M23 rebels, the Great Lakes region leaders intervened calling on member states to deploy a 4,000 strong Neutral International Force (NIF).

The force is supposed to fight the various local and foreign rebel groups holed up in the country.

Regional leaders are critical of the UN peacekeeping force in DRC (MONUSCO) accusing it of looking on as hundreds of thousands of Congolese are made homeless and others fleeing to neighboring Rwanda and Uganda.

They keep citing the example where MONUSCO looked on as the M23 were capturing Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu.

Kiyonga said behind the door negotiations through the UN system indicate that some world powers are not enthusiastic of the regional efforts to end the crisis.

"We have succeeded to leverage the cooperation of the UN. However if we do not keep our line of thinking firmly this opportunity could be lost. The Chiefs of defense staff must not be found lacking in articulating the most feasible mechanism to ensure that the NIF concept is maintained and command and control and political accountability not lost," he said.

He said the cooperation between the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) and SADC is to act independently of foreign control and conclusively end the crisis in DRC.

He cited a meeting between Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and three permanent members of the UN Security Council late last year.

France, Britain and the United States wanted to know how they can be involved in the military efforts to end the DRC crisis.

According to Kiyonga, Museveni who is also the chair of the ICGLR, a regional body bringing together 11 member states, told France, Britain and the U.S. that the most important thing is to have a force which can engage the rebels instead of one looking on when rebels are wreaking havoc.

Africa however cannot completely ignore the international community because it still has to go through the UN Security Council regarding approving the mandate of the NIF.

"This is a very difficult job to balance, we lack money and international law obliges us to work with international partners. We must not trade off our control, we have to be independent," he said.

"The region must maintain visibility, control and accountability as we move to work with UN through MONUSCO," he added.

Within the resource limitation, ICGLR and SADC member states are pooling together resources.

"We have unprecedented situation where a regional military initiative has already mobilized troops, some money and logistical support even before the UN is fully on board," Kiyonga.

According to Kiyonga, the DRC government contributed 20 million U.S. dollars towards the operation of the NIF.

South Africa has promised logistical support while SADC as a regional bloc will provide the bulk of the troops to the NIF.

Besides pursuing military efforts to end the crisis, there are regional efforts to pursue peace through talks.

There are ongoing talks between the DRC government and the M23 rebels aimed at ending the suffering of the people of eastern DRC. The talks are mediated by the Ugandan government and Kiyonga is the facilitator. Endi

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