By Drazen Jorgic and Fumbuka Ng’wanakilala
DAR ES SALAAM (Reuters) – U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday called on states around the Democratic Republic of Congo’s eastern region to stop fuelling conflict there and implement a peace deal.
After 11 nations signed the peace agreement, the United Nations started deploying an intervention force, MONUSCO, to neutralize armed groups in the mineral-rich area that has been racked by conflict for years and is desperately underdeveloped.
But a U.N. experts report seen by Reuters last week said military officers from Rwanda and Congo were fuelling violence in the region by supporting rival groups, despite the U.N.-brokered deal signed in February.
Rwanda has repeatedly denied meddling. Earlier accusations that it was backing rebels prompted a halt in some Western aid.
“The countries surrounding the Congo, they’ve got to make a commitment to stop funding armed groups that are encroaching on territorial integrity and sovereignty of Congo,” Obama told a news conference in Tanzania, the last leg of an Africa tour.
“They’ve signed on a piece of paper, now the question is whether they follow through,” he said. “Countries surrounding Congo should recognize that if the Congo stabilizes, that will improve the prospects for their goals and their prosperity.”
The U.N. report said the M23 rebels continued to recruit fighters in Rwanda, helped by sympathetic Rwandan officers.
It said elements of Congo’s military had cooperated with a Rwandan Hutu rebel group against the M23, a Tutsi-dominated rebellion of former Congolese soldiers that has demanded political concessions from President Joseph Kabila in Kinshasa.
Obama said he had discussed with President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania, which has contributed to the U.N. intervention force, “how we can encourage all the parties concerned to follow through on commitments they’ve made”.
“That means, for example, President Kabila inside Congo, he has to do more and better when it comes to dealing with the DRC’s capacity on security issues and delivery of services,” the U.S. president said at the joint news conference with Kikwete.
“We are prepared to work with the United Nations, regional organizations and others to help him build capacity,” he said, adding that ultimately it was in the “self-interest” of regional countries to act to end the conflict.
“We can’t force a solution on to the region. The people’s of the region have to stand up and say that enough, it’s time to move forward in a different way,” Obama added.
(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason and Mark Felsenthal; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by George Obulutsa and Alison Williams)