UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA - AFRICAN STUDIES CENTER
DRC: Regional mediation efforts intensify
NAIROBI, 18 August 1998 (IRIN) - Defence ministers from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) are meeting in Zimbabwe today to discuss the regional implications of the escalating conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The meeting follows talks yesterday in Harare between defence ministers from Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe. DRC President Laurent-Desire Kabila was expected at the table, but his presence could not be confirmed, and his whereabouts still remain a mystery.
The wider SADC discussions today are shrouded in secrecy amid reports of divisions within the regional alliance that brought Kabila to power, sources in Harare told IRIN. There has been no official announcement of the attendees. Zambia's defence minister is however believed to have arrived, and other SADC countries have sent officials to the talks.
A notable absentee is South African Defence Minister Joe Modise. Along with Foreign Minister Alfred Nzo, he left Pretoria today for Kigali and Kampala. South African officials would not confirm whether the ministerial team would meet Ugandan leader Yoweri Museveni and Rwandan Vice President and Defence Minister Paul Kagame, media reports said.
The Harare talks are expected to review the findings of a mediation and verification committee of the foreign ministers of Namibia, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. They have been investigating Kabila's allegations of Rwandan and Ugandan backing for the two-week-old rebellion. The ministers have been shuttling between Kampala, Kigali and Kinshasa, and it is not clear whether they have arrived in Harare to present their report.
Neither is it certain what the defence chiefs meeting can achieve to head off what is widely regarded as Kabila's impending defeat. "It might flop, that's part of the reason for keeping a thick blanket [of secrecy] over it," a local political commentator suggested.
The basis of the talks are also problematic, analysts say. According to diplomatic sources in South Africa, Pretoria favours more inclusive dialogue involving Rwanda, Uganda and the Congolese rebels. The formulation of the Harare meeting seems to tilt toward forthright backing for Kinshasa rather than mediation.
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, who reportedly has close ties to Kabila, last week suggested that Harare would be willing to intervene militarily to protect peace and stability within SADC members. But with the rapid advance of the rebellion in the DRC, most regional analysts believe it may be too late to save Kabila's government.
"Mugabe and Zimbabwe lead the pack in so far as sympathies for Kabila are concerned. Following close behind are Namibia and Angola, and to a lesser extent Zambia," a defence consultant in Harare told IRIN. "The other camp" within the 14-member SADC group is led by South Africa, which has been accused by Kinshasa of supporting Rwanda and Uganda. There have been allegations, denied on Monday by Pretoria, that South African nationals are smuggling arms to the rebels.
A political commentator close to the Zimbabwean government said Harare's main concern is stability in the region. She noted that two changes of government in less that two years in the DRC is "viewed with great concern". The negative impact on new-found Zimbabwean business in Kinshasa is also part of the policy equation, she added.
Military intervention on behalf of Kabila would, however, be unlikely. "I don't think anyone is going in to support him," she said.
Zimbabwe's regular military forces "would not be able to rise to the occasion in sufficient numbers" for deployment in the Congo, the defence consultant added. Angola on the other hand, has the airlift capacity to fly troops directly to Kinshasa. But Luanda's chief concern is the activities of the former rebel movement UNITA, and political sources in Luanda say it is not certain at the moment that Angola has thrown its support fully behind Kabila.
But Mugabe, chairman of SADC's ad-hoc defence and security committee, has taken a leading role in condemning "external intervention" in the DRC - believed to be a coded reference to Rwanda and Uganda. Articles in the state-owned 'Herald' newspaper have railed against "Tutsi empire-building" in the Great Lakes region.
"[Mugabe] has had very few friends lately and Kabila has become one of them. So he's talking in Kabila language at this stage - it's the official line," a regional analyst in Harare said. "Mugabe is looking for a role. We've been displaced by [South African President] Mandela with a bigger stature, economy and maybe coherent policy."
The foreign ministers' verification team emerged out of this month's Victoria Falls summit in Zimbabwe at which seven regional heads of state condemned foreign interference in the Congo crisis. South Africa was reportedly excluded from the meeting at the request of Kabila.
The South African foreign ministry and office of Deputy President Thabo Mbeki have however put out "feelers" to "various parties to hold an all-inclusive meeting within the week," political sources have told IRIN. Should nothing come of it, "we will speak to Kabila again," a South African official said. Foreign minister Nzo and defence minister Modise met Kabila in the southern city of Lubumbashi last weekend.
"We believe that some countries will play a larger role than others, but no one ... will be excluded in trying to find a peaceful solution," the official added.
Nairobi, 18 August 1998 14:15 gmt
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Date: Tue, 18 Aug 1998 17:21:29 +0300 (GMT+0300) From: IRIN - Central and Eastern Africa <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: DRC: Regional mediation efforts intensify 1998.8.18 Message-ID: <Pine.LNX.3.91.980818172017.6684Cemail@example.com>
Editor: Dr. Ali B. Ali-Dinar, Ph.D
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