European Union Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton has reiterated the European bloc's continued support for the Democratic Republic of Congo and noted that EU's engagement with the African country needs to be on a long-term basis to make it more productive.
In her address to the European Parliament on Tuesday, Ashton focused mainly on the democratic follow-up after the November 2011 elections in the DRC and the security and humanitarian situation in the country's eastern region.
Describing the DRC as a fragile state and a young democracy, Ashton noted that the country is still recovering from years of war and deprivation. She acknowledged that road to recovery and stabilization is not straight-forward, and pledged EU's commitment to supporting the DRC in consolidating its democracy and accelerating development.
She said the 2006 elections, which were hugely supported by the international community, marked a milestone in the DRC's progress towards a more democratic future, and noted that the 2011 elections were primarily funded and organized by the DRC itself.
She admitted that the execution of the 2011 elections may not have been perfect, but insisted that the international community must reorganize the conduct of the polls as an achievement by itself. She revealed that the EU had supported the electoral process by providing EUR 47.5 million and sending an Electoral Observation Mission.
Ashton hailed the commitment and hard work of the EU poll mission led by Mariya Nedelcheva, but added that its final report showed that the low scale of irregularities and fraud did not undermine the poll outcome. The report also highlighted the need for significant reforms and improvements in the future.
Noting that the mission's report was well received by all political actors in DRC, she said all stakeholders had since accepted the fact that that it would be impossible to recount the votes or organize a new round of elections.
She welcomed the appointment of Ponyo Matata as DRC's new Prime Minister and stressed that the EU will work closely with his government to improve the democratic process and strengthen the country's governance.
Ashton acknowledged that security situation in eastern DRC has improved considerably in recent years, but noted that more needs to done in this area to prevent the region from slipping back into war and disorder. She said the EU would work with its international partners and the DRC government to ensure that such a situation did not arise.
Noting that those displaced by the ongoing conflict in eastern DRC has crossed the two million mark, Ashton said the EU had already provided humanitarian assistance worth EUR 63 million so far this year. Reiterating EU's commitment to the unity and sovereignty of DRC, she condemned the rebellion by a section of the military and pledged to support the restoration of the authority of the State in that region.
Fierce fighting is currently on in DRC's eastern region between security forces and a group of Army deserters loyal to renegade general Bosco Ntaganda. Forces loyal to him deserted the Army in late April and seized control of several eastern towns from government security forces. The International Criminal Court has already issued a warrant for Ntaganda's arrest.
Expressing concerns over recent U.N. reports about external support to this rebellion, she said these developments, if confirmed would put at risk the positive regional dynamics between DRC and Rwanda and weaken their cooperation. She also pledged full support to the ongoing U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo and welcomed the renewal of its mandate.
U.N. peacekeepers were sent to DR Congo in 1999 as part of international efforts to end the 1999-2002 war that had dragged in six other countries and left over four million people dead. The U.N. mission in Congo, known as the MONUC, is the largest of its kind in the world, with over 19,000 troops and 3,000 civilian staff.
"I want to reiterate that the EU is committed for the long-term to support the DRC and the Great Lakes region to escape from the conflicts of the past and build a sustainable, more prosperous and more peaceful future. It is the people of the DRC we are determined to help, and to do so through a comprehensive approach that tackles the many inter-linked problems they face. We will persevere," Ashton said.
by RTT Staff Writer
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