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Great Lakes Policy Forum—Meeting Summary—September 11, 1997

Speakers: Richard Bogosian, Special Coordinator for Rwanda and Burundi, Howard Wolpe, Special Envoy of the President for Burundi, and Salih Booker, Senior Fellow for Africa, Council on Foreign Relations
September 11, 1997
Council on Foreign Relations

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

The meeting featured reports from Ambassador Richard Bogosian, Special Coordinator for Rwanda and Burundi; Howard Wolpe, Special Envoy of the President for Burundi; and from Salih Booker, Senior Fellow for Africa, Council on Foreign Relations.

  • The security situation remains very volatile in the Masisi region and in northeast and northwest Rwanda.
  • The U.N. team that is supposed to investigate the allegation of atrocities in ex-Zaire is now in place. The necessary permissions have now been granted but there is still some concern expressed over whether the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DROC) is indeed willing to let the team do its work. There is a growing feeling among Africans that the world is holding the Kabila regime to a double standard. One participant noted that Congo may not play by the rules imposed by the international community.
  • One participant stressed that aid for state reconstruction should not be seen as supporting the DROC government and be tied to the current U.N. investigation. Aid should be seen as an investment in the economy of Congo, which is potentially a stabilizing force for the entire Central African region. Another immediate priority in Congo is security. There is a desperate need for the nationalization and reorganization of the army and for a civilian police force. The third priority on which the international community should focus is the process of democratization and the need for the government to be more inclusive of the different elements in civil society. Kabila committed to a two-year timetable leading to elections, but two deadlines have already passed without any explanation on the part of the government.
  • At the beginning of September, refugees were forcibly repatriated by Congolese forces from Kisangani to Rwanda. UNHCR consequently suspended its operations in DROC because it cannot provide protection to the Rwandans seeking refugee status. It will resume operations in Congo only if there are formal guarantees from the government for the safety and security of UNHCR staff, both local and international, and if there is an adherence to the basic principles of international refugee law.
  • The government of Burundi requested a postponement of the all-parties-talks in Arusha for several reasons. It alleged that Tanzanians were opposed to the relaxation of sanctions and that they reportedly support the armed Hutu rebels in refugee camps in Tanzania. Accusing the Tanzanians and Julius Nyerere of being biased, part of the Burundi Tutsi community is opposing a growing resistance to Mwalimu Nyerere’s mediation. Elements in the government are also questioning the travel to Arusha of controversial figures, such as the Speaker of the National Assembly, who is subject to investigation by the justice system for his involvement in genocidal activities. The fourth factor that seems to have played a role in the government’s decision is the lack of satisfaction on the consultation that had occurred in advance of the all-parties-talks. There does not seem to be any question that the government had made a real effort to come to Arusha, but some people say the real issue is a strong resistance within the government.
  • Consequently, Julius Nyerere offered to step out of the peace process at the regional summit in Arusha on September 4, 1997, but the regional leaders insisted that he continue to be the mediator. In the final communique of the summit, the regional leaders also asked that trials be suspended in Burundi given the failings of the justice system. They established a secretariat to monitor sanctions compliance by all regional states on Burundi.
  • In a letter to President Clinton, Senator Christopher Smith asked for clarification about the role of U.S. military assistance in the region. There has not been any official response yet.
  • The ambassador for war crimes issues, David Scheffer, recently took a trip to Central Africa. His portfolio includes assignments to the Yugoslav Tribunal, the Rwandan Tribunal and participation in the negotiations about the international criminal court.

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