|U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Donald Yamamoto. (©AP/WWP)|
By Rachel J. King
Washington File Staff Writer
Washington -- The election on July 30 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) will mark ?a culmination of the efforts of various African nations? to establish peace, said U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Donald Yamamoto.
Speaking June 14 at a Congressional Human Rights Caucus briefing, Yamamoto said, ?We stand in witness on the eve of a historic moment -- the holding of free and fair national elections in the Congo, a nation that has suffered the loss of 4 million people in the last decade.
?This is a crucial year for us and for the friends of the Congolese people,? he told the caucus upon returning from extensive travel to the region.
The road to elections, however, has not been easy, and many more challenges lie ahead, Yamamoto warned. He said that the election ?will not end the violence, nor will it miraculously unite all the people of the Congo.? But in his view it will mark a step in a long and deep transformation of the country.
?We hope elections will launch the nation toward political stability,? he continued, ?and we are well aware that lasting stability will require economic growth and prosperity.? (See related article.)
Yamamoto noted that the humanitarian effort in the DRC is the ?largest peacekeeping mission in the world,? and the conflict in the country has been the deadliest since the end of World War II.
?Lasting stability in the Congo requires security forces able to defend its borders, protect the population and be accountable to government and deliver services to its people,? the diplomat said.
The deputy assistant secretary said that an international presence in the Congo has helped to keep neighboring states out of the country and the Great Lakes Region.
?The Congo must be free from foreign and domestic armed threats to security so they [the Congolese] can begin to rebuild economic and health care systems,? Yamamoto said. ?Until then," he added, "the Congolese people will have to depend on the international community for humanitarian assistance and support.?
Human rights, he said, will remain at the top of the agenda before the elections. He said that more than 1,200 people die every day in the Congo as the result of violence, starvation and disease.
Yamamoto also called for the caucus members to restore the $187 million that President Bush has requested in his budget for debt relief in the Congo.
?Our first contribution to helping the Congo to build its stability is to appropriate funds. We need to relieve the Congo of its crushing burden of debt,? he said.
In 2005, the United States provided more than $25 million in child-survival and health assistance, nearly $50 million in food assistance and approximately $20 million toward emergency assistance, he added.
This election, Yamamoto said, presents a rare opportunity to engage in a true transformation at an important ?crossroads? in Congolese history and advance U.S. interests in promoting peace, stability and democracy, in combating terrorism, fostering economic development, and eliminating human suffering.?
For additional information on U.S. policy, see Africa.