Neil Campbell, EU Advocacy Manager of the International Crisis Group, recently returned from eastern Congo. Any views expressed are his own.
“Unacceptable and murderous.” Those were the words French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner chose to describe the situation in north eastern Congo at a press conference after October’s monthly meeting of EU foreign ministers. Sadly, Congo was not even on the agenda of that meeting.
In the following weeks, Laurent Nkunda’s rebels advanced on Goma, displacing up to 300,000 people; the Congolese army went on a spree of looting, raping and killing in that town; and there was a double massacre in Kiwanja on 4 November, first by pro-government Mayi Mayi militia, then by Nkunda’s rebels against suspected Mayi Mayi loyalists.
At the next meeting of EU foreign ministers, on 10 November, Congo at last made it to the agenda. But the European response to the crisis in central Africa is not encouraging. EU military assistance was not completely counted out in their agreed statement, but turning a general call for “reinforcement of cooperation between the EU, its member states and MONUC [the UN force]” into any specific reinforcements on the ground is far from straightforward.
For now, the EU has chosen the diplomatic route, pressing for a political solution within the framework of two key agreements signed over the past year. The November 2007 Nairobi agreement provides for normalisation of relations between Congo and Rwanda, disarmament of Rwandan Hutu rebels in Congo — including some perpetrators of the 1994 genocide — and ending Rwandan support to Congolese Tutsi insurgent Nkunda. The January 2008 Goma agreement outlines a ceasefire, voluntary demobilisation of combatants and the “Amani” peace process between the government, Mayi Mayi militias and Nkunda’s rebels.