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Great Lakes Policy Forum—Meeting Summary—August 14, 1997

Speakers: Eleanor Bedford, U.S. Committee for Refugees, Herbert Weiss, Brooklyn College, and Richard Bogosian, State Department Special Coordinator for Rwanda and Burundi
August 14, 1997
Council on Foreign Relations


[Note: A transcript of this meeting is unavailable. The discussion is summarized below.]

The meeting featured presentations by Eleanor Bedford, U.S. Committee for Refugees; Herbert Weiss, Brooklyn College; and Ambassador Richard Bogosian, State Department Special Coordinator for Rwanda and Burundi.

The situation in Congo

  • The security situation in South Kivu has improved overall, although pockets of instability and periodic fighting persist and military presence is still massive throughout the region. In terms of the humanitarian situation, access to refugees and dispersed persons by relief agencies is better, but lack of infrastructure still remains the main obstacle to humanitarian aid. Sixteen thousand Burundian and Rwandan refugees remain dispersed in the Shabunda area. The number of internal displaced persons has been underestimated due to the inaccessibility of 90 percent of the area.
  • One participant pointed out that the Alliance’s future is very uncertain. Within a week after Kabila took over, he was no longer perceived as a liberator but as an oppressor. On the one hand, Kabila is relying mostly on foreign troops, which reveals his weakness, and on the other, civil society leaders undermine his government. If a internal compromise is not found, the temptation for Kabila to take authoritarian measures will be greater.
  • The international community wants to hold Kabila accountable for human rights abuses and to treat Congo as a normal state. However, the country is in a state of disorganization and anarchy. Participants debated whether it is fair to think that Kabila is in control of every group operating on his territory and is responsible for violence and insecurity throughout the country. One positive development has to be stressed: local elections have been permitted in a number of areas.
  • It was also pointed out that the international community needs to realize that it has a limited leverage on Kabila. He resisted the U.N. investigation of massacres and asked for the resignation of Roberto Garreton, who was supposed to head the mission. The United Nations removed Garreton from the investigation team, which was considered a victory for African governments. Kabila is backed by an alliance of African states to which South Africa lends its weight and moral authority.

The situation in Burundi

  • Peace talks about Burundi were supposed to resume on August 25 in Arusha. Debates are focused on whether the speaker of the Burundian National Assembly should participate in the dialogue. The Burundian government’s official position is that there are charges against him that are linked to the massacres following the assassination of the president, but he is the only official who can claim legitimacy based on the 1993 elections.
  • Internal fighting between Hutu rebels broke out several weeks ago.
  • In parts of Burundi, nutritional problems are fairly serious.

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