KINSHASA, 14 Mar 2006 (IRIN) - During a nine-day working visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo which began on 6 March, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guéhenno, spoke to IRIN in Kinshasa about security concerns for a peaceful run of a general election on 18 June. Following are excerpts of that interview on 9 March.
QUESTION: What does your visit mean at a time when the elections are so near?
ANSWER: The elections will be a turning point for the country. That is why I wanted to make a longer visit to DRC to see how we can help the political process to be as inclusive as possible and to see also, on the security level, how our troops can help the Congolese hold peaceful elections.
The results I expect from my visit: a visit like this - like the one before which led to the reorganisation of MONUC [ the UN peacekeeping mission] - is an opportunity to discuss with MONUC's senior officials a political and military strategy.
In terms of a political strategy, what I would like to get from this visit is a clear vision of the way we will manage not only the period preceding the elections, but also prepare the role of the international community after the polls. An error is often made in thinking that in a peace process after a conflict, all ends with elections. Elections are a decisive moment in the process, of course; it is a founding moment. However, the phase after the elections is not one in which the international community should lose interest in the country. And - I told President [Joseph] Kabila very clearly - we will respond to the request of the Congolese. On my part, as Under Secretary-General of the UN, I will do all within my power to mobilise the international community.
Q: How much risk is there that the presence of militia and foreign armed groups in the northeastern district of Ituri, northern Katanga and eastern DRC will compromise the elections, despite the presence of the MONUC and Congolese armed forces?
A: We are going to deploy troops in northern Katanga, where we still have no military presence. There is a battalion in Beni [North Kivu Province] which will be deployed there. I went to Katanga for the first time to see the situation on the ground. We asked the UN Security Council to give us a complete brigade for northern Katanga because we saw the tensions in this part of the country. We did not get it but we will try our best to contribute to the security and stability of this important area of the DRC.
Q: Will you change your operational procedures with the Congolese army in Ituri because of the mutiny of some Congolese troops?
A: There are a certain number of operations conducted jointly with the Congolese army that have gone well and have produced very good results; operations where Congolese soldiers have courageously paid with their lives. However, what is also true is that an army is not formed in a day, and there is a whole system that needs to be put in place by the Congolese authorities in order to have a solid army - a system where the army is paid regularly every month, an army that is fed and equipped. These structures are not yet in place. Therefore, there are certain units that are fragile and that is what we have seen in Ituri.
I am totally aware that there is not yet total stability in Bunia [Ituri District]. However, I think that if you compare Ituri to what it was three years ago at least 15,000 militiamen have been disarmed. There has been some progress. Unfortunately, these words do not carry much weight in the face of the suffering of the people of Tcheyi [60 km south of Bunia] or other localities of Ituri.
We have to work closely with FARDC [the Congolese army]. Sadly, there are no well equipped military resources in this army. In Ituri, we have a brigade; our largest brigade with four battalions. Ituri is as large as Sierra Leone where we had 17,000 men. Ituri is still a very important territory, however we cannot be everywhere in Ituri at all time. We have to keep a mobile force that has the capacity to hit hard and quickly when necessary. The Congolese forces need to maintain, progressively, a security presence. That is where, in my opinion, an increased effort is needed. I am trying to see how we can improve the plan of our forces, even more, to assist the populations in distress when they encounter militia violence because that is intolerable to all of us.
Is there a perfect security situation in DRC in the run up to elections? Maybe not. But I look back to how the referendum elections took place. Regardless of the difficult security situation in the immense territory, the referendum was peaceful. I am convinced that we can obtain the same results with this new round of elections that are to take place.
Q: You have asked the support of the EU, how will a European force work with UN troops?
A: Our forces do a lot in DRC. To have a reserve - a support force of the EU - would be like having an insurance policy at this very sensitive period. I hope that the EU, which has invested heavily in supporting the DRC's peace process, would respond positively to this request. We are also preparing to be everywhere we have to be during the elections.
Q: Some former rebel movements and certain local opposition groups have accused President Kabila of being partisan and of excluding them in the political process. What will you, as the person in charge of UN peacekeeping operations, do so that the Congo does not return to war?
A: The different questions asked all have to do with the important issue of the elections being inclusive. I have the same message for all: any election that is not inclusive will be less legitimate. It is important, therefore, to build solid foundations. It is in the interest of all Congolese. The second message: respect for diversity. Tomorrow, Congo will have multiple institutions, plural like in any democracy. Therefore, the idea that elections are everything or nothing for a single party is a dangerous and false one.