The UN must not allow further slaughter in Congo

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The border area between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda has been volatile for some weeks, raising fears that an international agreement which was to have brought peace to the Great Lakes region of Central Africa is unravelling. Eastern Congo is the crucible of the two wars that have ravaged the DRC since 1996, the most recent drawing in the armies of six nations and causing 3 million deaths.

The border area between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda has been volatile for some weeks, raising fears that an international agreement which was to have brought peace to the Great Lakes region of Central Africa is unravelling. Eastern Congo is the crucible of the two wars that have ravaged the DRC since 1996, the most recent drawing in the armies of six nations and causing 3 million deaths.

This is the backdrop to our interview today with the President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, in which he evokes the chilling prospect of Africa's bloodiest conflict rekindling. He makes it clear that his own forces are poised to invade Congo unless attacks on Rwanda launched by Interahamwe militias in eastern Congo are stopped. These Rwandan extremists slaughtered 800,000 people in the 1994 genocide and many fled to Congo.

The horror of that genocide should not blind us to the reality that the Rwandans are not always the good guys of Africa. Government forces have in the past been implicated in the pillaging of eastern Congo for minerals. And their looting has been accompanied by appalling atrocities .

But President Kagame can nonetheless legitimately claim an interest in what happens in eastern Congo. It was part of the deal under which Rwanda withdrew forces from eastern Congo that the groups who caused the genocide would be disarmed. Instead these militia are still on the loose, massacring civilians.

Nor has the UN peacekeeping mission in eastern Congo covered itself in glory. It has become embroiled in a sex abuse scandal and is hobbled by a feeble mandate which in effect makes the disarmament voluntary. The time has surely come to give UN troops the power to enforce the peace, and that means stripping these groups of their arms. It would be a deplorable abdication of responsibility if the international community simply wrings its hands at President Kagame's warnings. It has a moral duty to address his grievances and help prevent these tensions from erupting into a full-scale war that would again destabilise an entire region, perhaps leading to the slaughter of tens of thousands more civilians.

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