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Democratic Republic of Congo

Volume 705: debated on Tuesday 4 November 2008

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The conflict in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is not just a threat to regional stability but also has appalling humanitarian consequences. Following last week’s events, in which the forces of the rebel leader Laurent Nkunda made substantial gains in territory and threatened the major regional city of Goma, I visited the region with the French Foreign Minister on 1 and 2 November.

My visit allowed me to discuss the conflict with Presidents Kabila of DRC, Kagame of Rwanda and Kikwete of Tanzania. Presidents Kabila and Kagame will need to work together to achieve a lasting solution which addresses the underlying political factors. The right framework for this is already in place. The Nairobi agreement, signed by the Governments of DRC and Rwanda in November 2007, commits both to act to reduce the threat posed by the Forces Democratiques de la Liberation du Rwanda, the militia recognised in UN Security Council Resolution 1804 as the leading cause of regional instability. It remains a valid approach. Presidents Kabila and Kagame have a key role to play in implementing that agreement. I was reassured in my meeting with President Kikwete that the African Union will mediate and assist both governments in carrying out the work they have undertaken to do to create the conditions for peace.

Other international actors can help drive the process forward, too. The UN Secretary-General has announced that he will appoint former President Obasanjo of Nigeria as his special envoy to promote better co-operation between DRC and Rwanda. I commend this initiative. It is right that the UN should stay closely engaged in the process to end this destructive conflict and encourage more constructive relations. The EU, too, should consider what support it can offer the UN, and continue its involvement in efforts to develop collaborative relations between the DRC Government and the other parties which signed agreements following the peace and security conference at Goma in January 2008.

I was struck during my visit to the camp for internally displaced people at Kibati, close to Goma, by the extent of the human suffering caused by the conflict. Access for aid workers to the displaced and the provision of food, sanitation and shelter are urgent issues. The UK is already a prominent donor of aid to DRC, much of which is targeted at improving the humanitarian situation. We have increased our contribution in this area by £5 million in light of the recent events, in addition to the £37 million already committed. We will continue to lend support in this and other development areas.

The potential of the African Great Lakes region is enormous. The UK has invested considerable effort in it. While insecurity and violence persist in eastern DRC, the stability and prosperity of the entire region are under threat. The political processes already agreed, and the engagement of the international community, represent an opportunity to resolve them and avert further conflict. We must not let it pass.