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RIGHTS-DRC: Rapporteur Will Resume Work on Zaire Massacres

UNITED NATIONS, Nov 7 1999 (IPS) - After languishing for more than a year, a UN investigation is resuming its prove into alleged massacres that occurred in 1996-1997 in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), formerly Zaire.

The resumption of the long-stalled inquiry came even as the UN Security Council Friday approved a renewal of UN military observers in the DRC, but stopped short of authorising a request to deploy up to 500 military observers in the country.

Roberto Garreton, the UN human rights rapporteur entrusted with investigating the massacre allegations, said that the UN Commission on Human Rights has renewed his mandate.

In a new twist, DRC President Laurent Kabila – who two years ago first blocked and then ultimately banned Garreton from doing any work in the eastern Congo – pledged to support the new rights investigation.

As Garreton noted, Kabila’s change of heart came after he fell out with his old allies in the Rwandan and Ugandan governments – who aided his rise to power in 1997, but are now blamed by the DRC leader for conducting massacres of thousands of Rwandan Hutu refugees in what was then Zaire.

“Our problem was with (Zairean) President Mobutu, not with the Hutu refugees,” Kabila told Garreton during a recent meeting.

The year-long rivalry between Kabila on the one hand and Rwanda and Uganda on the other – which led to the eight-nation conflict in the DRC that has been halted by the current, fragile ceasefire – has helped to re-activate Garreton’s inquiry.

For Kabila, who relied on Rwanda and Uganda to overthrow Mobutu in 1997, the new investigation could help to improve his image.

The alleged massacres targetted Rwandan Hutus who had been linked to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda – and, many observers believed, were done at the behest of Rwandan forces who were upset at the presence of Hutu extremists so close to the Zaire-Rwanda border.

The inquiry, in turn, could help Kabila to sully the image of his former backers in Rwanda, as well as that of the rebel Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD), which is backed by Rwanda and has won control of much of the eastern DRC.

In the past Kabila – who has also been accused of repressive measures in the DRC – tried to prevent Garreton from even entering the Congo. He accused the Chilean diplomat of being biased against his coalition of anti-Mobutu groups, the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (AFDL).

Last year, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan tried to sidestep any controversy over Garreton by sending a separate mission, headed by Atsu-Kofi Amega, to investigate the massacres.

However, that mission was unable to perform its work, after the DRC government failed to provide access to several sites in eastern and central Congo. Now, however, Garreton said that he was willing to accept Kabila’s offer of cooperation.

A larger problem remained: much of the eastern DRC, where rebels backed by Rwanda and Uganda have maintained resistance to Kabila’s regime, is treacherous, and security for investigators is questionable.

The UN Security Council, which last week discussed the possibility of sending a larger peacekeeping force to the DRC, acknowledged those risks Friday by passing a narrow resolution that only renewed the existing, small body of military observers.

The Council resolution would allow the current level of observers to continue their work until Jan. 15, 2000.

The United Nations currently deploys about 40 observers in the DRC, but has not received sufficient security guarantees from the Kabila government to field a larger force, Annan noted in a report.

Annan and other top officials, however, have intended to place a larger mission, the UN Observer Mission in the DRC (MONUC), within the coming months.

MONUC would be expected to field several hundred military observers and a large number of humanitarian and political officers. Eventually, the United Nations intends to lead to a full- fledged peacekeeping operation, officials here said.

Still, there are problems in winning acceptance for such a force in the DRC, where some officials in the Kabila government have been wary of UN involvement.

Some DRC officials have accused the world body of trying to destabilise Kabila, and of having helped oust the Congo’s first prime minister, Patrice Lumumba, in 1960. (Lumumba was murdered by Katangese rebels in 1961, one year after a UN peacekeeping mission was deployed in the Congo after Belgian colonial forces departed.)

UN spokesman Fred Eckhard acknowledged “suspicions in the Congo dating back to 1960” had complicated discussions on the security and freedom of movement of UN officers. Currently, Eckhard said, the DRC government still placed restrictions on the UN observers’ movements through the country.

Yet Annan, in his report this week, affirmed the need for deeper UN involvement regardless of the difficulties. “The suffering in the DRC has persisted for far too long for us to miss the chance offered by the Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement,” he said, referring to the pact that led to the halt in fighting.

Garreton added that the tense situation in the DRC – which has involved 18 different armed groups, as well as eight outside nations – clearly required outside assistance to bolster the ceasefire. “It could blow up at any minute,” he warned.

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