Ambassador Swing gave a detailed briefing of the current and planned activities of the UN Observer Mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC). Excluding the mission in Liberia (UNMIL), MONUC is the largest of 16 UN Missions in the world with a total peace keeping budget of $641million. It is one of the largest and most complex missions of the United Nations to date, with over ten thousand troops, seven hundred sixty military observers, and over a hundred nationalities involved.

The sheer size and diversity of MONUC manifests the great importance the Democratic Republic of the Congo has for the international community. According to Swing, if the DRC can become politically stable enough to realize its resource potential it would be in a position to impact the entire continent. In particular, it could provide the political center of gravity that Central Africa is currently lacking.

War, disease, and political instability have plagued the DRC for decades, producing 3.5 million direct and indirect deaths, 20 demolished health centers, 3.4 million internally displaced persons, 600,000 refugees (of which 388,000 are being cared for by the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees), 17,000 malnourished people, 1.3 million HIV/AIDS cases, and a UNDP Human Development rating of 167 out of 175 countries. Nevertheless, according to Swing, human spirit in the DRC is still strong and national unity is intact. Congolese citizens are supportive of the one president - four vice president formula, and all political leaders and rebel groups have come to realize that their interests are better served in the transitional government than in holding certain territories by force. Swing said that the regional dynamic is also becoming more positive: the DRC and its neighbors are beginning to cooperate in setting up joint mechanisms, visitor exchanges, and reopening embassies.

Presidents Paul Kagame and Joseph Kabila have issued a joint statement recognizing the foreign troops on Congolese soil as a problem that must be addressed jointly. Swing reported that this has greatly strengthened MONUC's ability to support their efforts to repatriate armed groups. The most important thing for MONUC at this juncture, according to Swing, is that the transition remain credible. Now that MONUC has a Chapter VII mandate, allowing it to use all necessary means to protect itself and Congolese civilians, MONUC will be able to work towards a "successful transition to good governance culminating in free and fair elections in 2005."

MONUC's budget is focused on several core activities, including ensuring peace and security in Ituri and the Kivus, police force training, and quick impact projects (QUIPS). MONUC also has the largest public information radio station in the country. It broadcasts in five languages and has plans to add a sixth language, Kinyarwanda, to reach out to Interahamwe, ex-FAR and other Rwandan elements in the DRC. All of these activities are essential to MONUC's goal of repatriating 12,000 armed soldiers and refugees by April of this year.

This two-way traffic, with armed elements moving out of the DRC and Congolese refugees returning, has already yielded 9,000 repatriations. Burundians in the DRC, according to Swing, will probably be heading home when security is stronger in Bujumbura Rurale. Ugandans should be going home soon as well, Swing said, since Museveni has granted a three-month extension on a January 17 amnesty offer he has made to insurgent elements. To facilitate the repatriation of foreign troops, all UN offices have blanket authority to get people home. The main problem is the Interahamwe, elements of the former Rwandan civilian militias involved in the '94 genocide. Hard-line commanders do not want troops to return to Rwanda and those who wish to return are thus risking their lives to get there. Efforts are being made to communicate the UN's and Kinshasa's commitment to helping them repatriate through leaflet drops and radio announcements.

In terms of the Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration, Resettlement and Repatriation (DDRRR) process, Swing reported significant progress. The extension of the government's authority throughout the country, the efforts to create an integrated republican army, the spontaneous disarmament of the Maï Maï and other elements, and particularly the improvement of inter-group relations in the eastern Congo are a testament to this progress. Still, the Demobilization, Disarmament and Repatriation (DDR) process, according to Swing, is behind schedule. A World Bank program has been established to help integrate and reinsert soldiers and refugees into society, but program implementation has not yet begun. However, it should be off the ground by early summer. DDR is a high priority particularly because the disarming Maï Maï groups are now assembling in Kindu and other places and provisions for food and other basic necessities are inadequate.

Swing indicated that illegal arms importation is continuing to fuel conflict, particularly in Ituri. The Eastern arms embargo that has been established is having some impact. Still, Swing warned, there are limitations to the embargo: borders are porous and there is a lack of sufficient aerial surveillance to effectively control arms flows. Swing said that MONUC is now taking steps to create a cell to monitor arms flows, to redeploy riverain assets on the Congo river and lakes, to redeploy military observers, and to encourage other states to respect the arms embargo provisions of UN Security Council Resolution 1493.

At the heart of the transition are elections. Since the constitution says the election of a president will mark the end of the transition, elections drive the political calendar. Swing reported that a European Union and UN team have concluded that it is logistically and technically feasible to accomplish elections in the timeframe set forth in the constitution of the transition. But much remains to be done and success will depend on political will to move things forward on schedule. Swing noted the astonishing logistical challenges that the DRC will face in mounting national elections – far more formidable than those confronted in South Africa and Cambodia. The DRC elections will involve between 26 and 30 million voters, 35,000 polling centers, and 10,000 registration centers. The ultimate cost of this exercise will depend on the choices the government makes concerning which methods to use to conduct elections.

The international community needs to be informed on how to most effectively assist the DRC, Swing said. An international conference on democracy development is foreseen for this year and preparations have begun. MONUC believes, however, that conference-building measures are required before a successful conference can occur. Embassies must first be reopened and joint commissions and technical working groups must meet.

Responding to queries from the audience, Swing made these additional observations:

o Kabila and his administration have expressed a strong political will to ensure a smooth transition and have fully supported MONUC's efforts.

o The UN is working closely with NGOs and the transition government to try to address the problem of impunity. Institutionally, the DRC must be helped to rehabilitate its justice system and to establish truth and reconciliation mechanisms. A truth and reconciliation committee has already traveled to South Africa to study that country's experience.

o MONUC has not taken a position on the necessity of a pre-election census. However, MONUC's goal is to support Congolese efforts to hold elections by 2005, and there may be no feasible way to meet this deadline if the election is to be linked to a census. Establishing voter registration centers may be a more practical and efficient means of identifying voters.

o MONUC does not have a Chapter VII mandate to forcibly repatriate Rwandan ex-FAR and Interahamwe elements.

Nicole Rumeau, Program Associate, (202) 691-4097
Howard Wolpe, Program Director