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The United States came under fire on Tuesday for failing to do enough to end the rebellion in the Democratic Republic of Congo, as experts proposed ways to end the bloodshed including tough sanctions.
“By global standards, the international effort to construct a credible peace process for Congo is manifestly derelict, condemning that country to further cycles of devastating conflict,” John Prendergast, co-founder of the non-governmental Enough Project, told lawmakers in prepared testimony.
Beyond a simple UN Security Council resolution calling for an end to violence, “the international diplomatic response is revealed to be shockingly ineffective, perhaps even violating the Hippocratic Oath: 'First, do no harm.'“
But the top US diplomat for Africa, Johnnie Carson, defended the administration from charges that US policy in the Great Lakes region was weak, telling lawmakers “I reject that notion and I must reject it pretty soundly.”
The M23 rebellion, launched earlier in 2012 by army mutineers largely from the ethnic Tutsi community, conquered large swathes of the mineral-rich eastern DR Congo and briefly took over the main city of Goma before withdrawing following a diplomatic initiative.
Kinshasa accuses the Tutsi leaders in its neighbour Rwanda of arming the M23 and sending some of its own troops to fight, an allegation Kigali has consistently denied.
Experts outlined proposals for a way forward such as sanctions and naming a a presidential envoy to the region.
“The gravitas of a presidential envoy I believe would send perhaps a stronger message to those that are part of the peace process,” said Representative Christopher Smith, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights.
Other proposals included calling for a UN envoy to the Great Lakes, suspending US assistance to any government supporting the conflict and organising a high-level summit on responsible investment in the region.
Smith said current US policy was framed by the failure of the former administration of president Bill Clinton to halt the 1994
genocide in Rwanda.
The “guilt over the Clinton administration's colossal failure... has led to subsequent US administrations being reluctant to criticise the government of Rwanda,” Smith said, adding that it was time “to overcome our regret over what happened 18 years ago.”
During the nearly three-hour hearing, Carson highlighted moves taken by the current administration, including recent trips he had made to the region, as well as talks hosted by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in New York between Rwandan President Paul Kagame and the Congolese leader Joseph Kabila.
Several reports by a UN panel of experts on DR Congo have pointed to heavy involvement by Kigali, even naming the Rwandan defence minister as the man who topped the M23 chain of command.
Carson agreed there is “credible evidence” of Rwandan support for the rebels, and acknowledged that so far there were no US sanctions against individual Rwandan officials accused of backing the rebels.
But he stressed: “I would submit that the actions that we have taken reflect a high degree of interest in this situation.”
“Sanctions would go a long way to ensuring the problem is understood as a Rwandan-orchestrated problem,” insisted Steve Hege, a former member of the UN panel of experts on DR Congo, explaining that confidential lists of individuals had already been submitted to the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee.
Hege added that Rwanda's backing of the rebels was “a determined and calculated drive to spawn the creation of an autonomous federal state for the eastern Congo.”
Talks in the Ugandan capital between Congolese rebels and the Kinshasa government opened late Sunday, in the latest bid to end the conflict that has forced hundreds of thousands of people in North Kivu province from their homes.
But they faltered on the second day Monday after rebels shunned the meetings over officials' outrage at their accusations.
Prendergast said there was a “clash of two visions.” The US administration is pressing for all neighbours to help resolve the conflict and as such sanctions would prove counter-productive.
“The alternative belief... is that we utilise these punitive measures that will provide leverage for a solution,” said Prendergast. “But it's not going to happen unless we get US leadership.” - Sapa-AFP