Global Policy Forum

Uganda Withdraws From Congo Accord


By Geoffrey Muleme

Associated Press
April 30, 2001

Uganda's president withdrew on Sunday from a peace accord designed to end Congo's 2 1/2 -year civil war, infuriated by a U.N. report accusing his nation and other parties in the conflict of plundering Congo's vast natural resources.

The United Nations is helping broker an end to the war, which now involves five foreign armies and has left the Congolese government holding just 40 percent of a country the size of Western Europe. Aid workers say the conflict is indirectly responsible for the deaths of at least 1 million Congolese and the displacement of 2 million more.

Uganda's withdrawal could give the Congolese rebels it backs less incentive to stick to the peace agreement, reached in Lusaka, Zambia in 1999 by all warring sides. It could also enable Uganda to arm those rebels, unrestrained by the accord's prohibition on further military aid.

But Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni also reiterated his commitment to pulling his troops from neighboring Congo, saying now that they have defeated Ugandan rebels operating there, it was time for his forces to leave. The force Museveni claims to have defeated is the Allied Democratic Front, a small Ugandan rebel group that has attacked villages throughout western Uganda from bases in Congo. A shadowy group, its leadership and ideology are not known, though it is believed to be associated with former Ugandan dictator Milton Obote.

Some participants appeared unconcerned that Uganda was pulling out of the peace agreement, and were pleased that Museveni would still withdraw his troops. ``If the government decides to withdraw its forces from the Congo, it's always favorable. This is in line with the Lusaka agreement,'' said Kamel Morjane, the U.N. special representative for Congo. ``If all parties show their goodwill there is no risk.''

Uganda and Rwanda both sent troops into Congo in 1998 to back Congolese rebels seeking to overthrow former President Laurent Kabila. Both countries were also acting to secure their borders from attacks by Rwandan and Ugandan rebels operating from within Congo. Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia sent in troops to support Congo's government. Despite the 1999 accord, sporadic fighting has continued.

Kikaya Bin Karubi, the Congolese information minister, welcomed the promised troop withdrawal and said his country would stick with the Lusaka peace agreement no matter what. The leader of the Ugandan-backed rebels, Congolese Liberation Front Chairman Jean-Pierre Bemba, said the decision would have little impact on the war since, he insisted, Ugandan troops had not been involved in the fighting. Uganda is estimated to have had at least 10,000 troops in Congo at the peak of the war.

Museveni said his decision was motivated by an April 16 U.N. report that implicated his country, members of his government and his family in the alleged plundering of resources from Congo. The report called for sanctions against Uganda and Rwanda and the prosecution of their leaders and rebel leaders for economic crimes. ``The U.N. report does not only distort the source of the conflict in the Great Lakes region and malign us, but they also seek to destroy the Lusaka peace agreement. The report is in the main, shoddy, malicious and a red herring,'' Museveni said in a statement in the government-owned New Vision newspaper. ``Genocide, terrorism and disenfranchising the Congolese people are causes of this problem, not minerals,'' he said.

Congo has vast deposits of key minerals, including diamonds, copper, cobalt, gold and coltan — a natural alloy of columbite and tantalite used to manufacture high-tech electronics. It also has large forests for timber. Museveni said his army will remain on the mountain slopes overlooking the Congo border to flush out any rebel incursions. He left open the possibility his troops may return to Congo if he decides they are needed there. In his statement, Museveni also cited the region's chaos and the world's ``indifference.'' ``Owing to the indifference to Africans suffering in the world, owing to ideological confusion and fragmentation in Africa where you cannot tell who is an enemy and who is a friend, I have decided to ... withdraw completely from Congo and also from the Lusaka peace process,'' Museveni said.

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