'Neutral force' of little use in eastern DR Congo: analystsBy HELEN VESPERINI | Thursday, August 9 2012 at 15:26
The "neutral force" that Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda say they want to create may never materialise and would be no panacea for eastern DR Congo even if it does, analysts said Wednesday.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame and his Congolese counterpart Joseph Kabila have agreed "in principle" to such a force after months of back-and-forth clashes between rebel fighters and the regular army in the hills and jungles of DR Congo's east.
But some observers warn that such a force would be of little use in a region that is already patrolled by 19,000 United Nations troops.
"This neutral force makes absolutely no sense," said Gerard Prunier, a historian who follows the region.
"MONUSCO is already there and having a hard time of it," he said, referring to the UN force in DR Congo.
"It's not by adding another vegetable to the soup that they're going to improve the flavour."
Kigali and Kinshasa have diverging views on how to build a buffer force, with Kinshasa initially in favour of using the UN mission already deployed in the region, and Kigali opposed to the idea.
Since then, regional powers have met twice to hammer out details for a force but the first meeting -- made up of regional defence ministers in Khartoum -- appeared to make no tangible progress.
The latest meeting, which ended Wednesday in Kampala, resulted only in a commitment to meet again in a month, and the mandating of a handful of the same defence chiefs who met in Khartoum to come up with new proposals.
Uganda said a communique noting member states would seek "home-grown solutions" meant the force would be made up of troops from the 11-nation regional bloc, the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR).
"The force will be an international force composed of regional forces," said Uganda's acting foreign minister, Henry Okello Oryem.
But if the force is to be truly neutral, that could exclude contributions from several of the 11 ICGLR nations, notably Angola, Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda, given their involvement in earlier DR Congo conflicts.
Another regional analyst, Jason Stearns, referred in an article this week to the force as being "chimerical" and difficult to achieve.
"Donors are already spending $1.4 billion annually on the UN peacekeeping mission in the Congo. It is unlikely that they would want to spend millions more on a new, aggressive mission to hunt down rebel forces," he argued.
"It will take months - at at least - to create and deploy a neutral force. During this time, the M23 and related armed groups are likely to make moves and gain ground," he added.
Nations contributing to the UN force MONUSCO are also unlikely to favour a more aggressive mandate for their men, he said.
Back at its July summit, the African Union said it was willing to contribute troops to such a force.
Another difficulty is finding troops sufficiently battle-hardened to take on the main rebel groups in difficult terrain, analysts say.
M23, the Congolese rebel movement, has a number of officers and a good proportion of men who originate from the region in which they are fighting.
The Hutu rebels of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) originate from neighbouring Rwanda, but have had bases in the forests of eastern DRC for the best part of the past two decades.
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