In 2013, 11 African countries signed a peace deal aimed at bringing to an end decades of conflict in eastern Congo. German diplomat Martin Kobler is the head of MONUSCO, the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC.
Martin Kobler, how do you assess the progress that has been made since the signing of the deal in Addis Ababa a year ago?
There is a whole new dynamism. The Addis Ababa agreement is one of the reasons why people now believe the Demcoratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has turned a corner, politically, economically and in terms of good governance. The Addis agreement was the decisive step, committing governments in the region to certain international obligations. Those commitments are subject to verification – my colleague Mary Robinson, UN special envoy for the Great Lakes region – has been particularly active in this regard.
How do you evaluate Rwanda's role? Rwanda was always one of the main players in the conflict in eastern Congo. Rwanda is persistently accused of funding militia in the DRC
We often hear references to MONUSCO's intervention brigade and the restoration of the authority of the state. But that of course can't be done, unless all countries in the region are involved in the process and playing a constructive role. All countries are bound to respect the regional obligations they entered into at Addis Ababa. It is most important that all countries in the Great Lakes region are constructively involved in the peace process.
Is Rwanda abiding by the Addis Ababa agreement?
I am in constant contact with the government of Rwanda. All parties are endeavoring to grasp the opportunities offered by the agreement. I believe it is very important to involve Rwanda in a positive manner. It is vital that we convince all countries in the region that stability in eastern DRC is important – individual countries can only gain from this stability!
In November 2013 the victory over M23 militia made headline news around the world. In the meantime – as you yourself have said – M23 is trying to regroup. Is M23 still a security risk in the eastern DRC, or could it become one?
M23 is not a problem at the moment. A few weeks ago there were signs that M23 was starting recruitment again – both Mary Robinson, UN special envoy for the Great Lakes region, and I, the UN special envoy for the DRC, have pointed this out. But that is not our only concern. The M23 rebels are in camps in Uganda and Rwanda and need to be reintegrated back into society and the Nairobi agreements must be implemented. [Editor's note: the DRC and M23 signed agreements in Nairobi in December 2013 on M23's demobilization and its transformation into a political party] Our chief problem at the moment are the other armed groups, the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) and the ADF-Nalu (Allied Democratic Forces - National Army for the Liberation of Uganda) the Mai Mai Bakata Katanga and other groups.
You were referring there to the FDLR and after the victory over M23, MONUSCO announced that the FDLR would be its next target. But at the moment we are hearing more about fighting against ADF-Nalu.
Indeed. We, MONUSCO, together with the DRC army are taking action against the ADF-Nalu in the north. But that does not preclude action againt the FDLR. Since December we have cleared away many positions held by the FDLR and the APCLS (Alliance of patriots for a free and sovereign Congo). That isn't as spectacular as the battle against M23, because they were only small positions and the rebels were hidden away in the jungle. But we, MONUSCO, are still active. It is important that we fulfill the mandate handed down to us by the UN Security Council. That mandate stipulates very clearly that we are allowed to use force if there is no alternative. I'd like to emphasize that if demobilization does not proceed on a voluntary basis, then the UN has the right to disarm all armed groups in the eastern DRC, using force if necessary. It is a task we take very seriously.
How are operations coordinated between MONUSCO and FARDC (the DRC army)?
You shouldn't regard the intervention brigade as an isolated entity. MONUSCO now consists of a contingent of about 20,000 blue helmets. The intervention brigade was a new robust element that was added to it. But all 20,000 blue helmets are engaged in bringing stability to the eastern DRC, not just the intervention brigade. The military wing of MONUSCO is commanded by General dos Santos Cruz, a Brazilian. All are under his command - the general running the intervention brigade and generals responsible for the other brigades (North Kivu, South Kivu, Ituri etc).
Santos masterminds coordination with the DRC army. According to our mandate, we can either carry out military operations alone, or with the DRC army. General dos Santos and I have decided that we should operate only in conjunction with the DRC army. It's important that the territory we have just liberated stays in our hands – that is something that only the DRC army can attend to. It would be ill-advised for MONUSCO or the intervention brigade to embark on operations on their own.
How do you assess the situation in Katanga province? Following fighting between rebels and the army, 400,000 people have been displaced. Is MONUSCO sufficiently well prepared to supply assistance in Katanga?
Katanga is difficult terrain. We have 450 blue helmets there – in Lubumbashi, Manono, Kalemie and other places. But that isn't nearly enough. Katanga is the size of Spain and it is of course very difficult to patrol such a big region. After the recent atrocities, MONUSCO decided to dispatch a company of special forces troops to the so-called "triangle of death" - the region between the towns of Pweto, Mitwaba and Manono, where a number of armed groups, including Bakata Katanga are to be found. I was there two weeks ago and saw the villages that had been burnt. Mai Mai Bakata Katanga groups have been systematically burning down villages, raping the women and driving out the inhabitants. This is unacceptable and that's why we are bringing in reinforcements. But let me say this – more MONUSCO troops are not a panacea. It's the job of the DRC army to keep their country secure. It's not just the Mai Mai groups that are an issue – there is also a political problem, namely, the people who supply these groups with weapons.
Does this have to do with natural resources and secessionist tendencies in Katanga?
The problems are varied and numerous. The DRC – Katanga in particular – is very wealthy. I have seen the mines in Katanga, in the Copperbelt. There is not only copper there but coltan and gold as well. Katanga is very rich, but it is also troubled by extreme poverty. Children work in the mines – and we at MONUSCO are in contact with the provincial government of Katanga. Children shouldn't be working in mines, nor fighting on the battlefield, they should be in school!.
Is there a time limit to MONUSCO's presence in the DRC?
MONUSCO has been in the DRC for 15 years. But we are dealing here with problems that cannot be solved overnight. MONUSCO's mandate has to be renewed every year by the UN Security Council as a matter of principle. The UN Security Council decides when the time has come to pack up and leave. However, MONUSCO will only cease to be needed in the DRC when circumstance prevail in which people can live in peace.
Martin Kobler is the head of MONUSCO, the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Interviewer: Dirke Köpp