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Interview with Ibrahima Fall, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General

[Great Lakes] Ibrahima Fall, the Special Representative of UN Secretary-General to the Great Lakes Region. IRIN
Ibrahima Fall, the Special Representative of UN Secretary-General to the Great Lakes Region.
Representatives from Africa's Great Lakes region began a five-day meeting in Kenya's coast town of Mombasa on Monday, to work out how to implement the comprehensive declaration on peace, security, democracy and development that heads of state of the region signed in November 2004 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General to the Great Lakes Region, Ibrahima Fall, has been leading this process for the last two years. He is a former foreign minister of Senegal who joined the UN a decade ago, heading the UN Human Rights Commission before becoming UN Assistant-Secretary-General in the Department of Political Affairs. He talked with IRIN on Thursday (31 March). Here are excerpts: QUESTION: Regional leaders signed a declaration of peaceful cooperation in November. Has anything been achieved yet? ANSWER: No. We are just beginning now with this meeting in Mombasa. We have to translate the directives contained in the Dar es Salaam Declaration into concrete action. Q: Give us an example of how you are doing this? A: This region has been war torn for more than 50 years. So the first problem is the circulation of small arms throughout the region without any control by the governments. If we want a secure future we have to deal with this issue. Q: But aren't there already regional agreements on small arms? A: Yes, there are various agreements and protocols but what we are going to do [at the meeting in Mombassa] is find out why is it that they have not been implemented. We are going to make them effective by, for example, creating a monitoring mechanism, which every six months will check the level of implementation and tell each state what it needs to be doing [to be in compliance with the agreements they signed]. Q: Are there also issues for which agreements and protocols need to be created? A: Yes there are vacuums. For example we don't have any regional mechanism on conflict, management and resolution. We don't have any agreement on non aggression and good neighbourliness. Q: So who is going to be at this meeting to work out these various agreements and monitoring mechanisms? A: There are eleven countries [in and around the Great Lakes]. Each is sending twelve experts, three for each of the four thematic issues of peace and security; democracy and good governance; economics development and regional integration; and social and humanitarian issues. Q: Does each of these countries have the necessary experts to figure out solutions for the various issues? A: They do, although they are also getting international support. This whole exercise is built on the two pillars: one is ownership of the process by the region; the other is partnership between the countries [of the region] and the international community. And so we also have experts coming from the UN, the African Union; subregional organisations and the Groups of Friends of the Great Lakes [donor countries]. Q: That adds up to a lot of experts. How will you get them all to agree on so many different issues? A: It's a very tough process and we have a very tight work schedule from now until November [before a heads of state summit]. We are going to have to finalise these protocols and programmes of action by then and incorporate them into the security, stability and development pact which we will submit to a summit of the region's heads of state in December here in Nairobi. Q: What are the best and worst possible outcomes of this process? A: The worst scenario is that we don't meet the timeframe. The end of this year is coming up quickly. Are we going to be able to present to the heads of state a complete, concrete and feasible programme of action with all the costing? We are ready to work day and night to ensure that these obstacles are overcome. We are not going to change the region overnight but what is important is the political will and the way in which it is translated into reality and we believe that after December 2005, when we have a security, stability and development pact, we will be able to start with the implementation phase. Q: Will you have the money to actually implement the pact? A: I think so. In Dar es Salaam, the heads of state declared this region to be in need of a kind of Marshall Plan. They pledged to put forward their resources to implement the pact and the Group of Friends [of the Great Lakes], which is mostly composed of donors, is accompanying the process. I have no doubt that it will be possible to find the necessary finance. Q: A week after the heads of state signed the Dar es Salaam declaration; Rwanda threatened to send troops into eastern Democratic Republic of Congo [to disarm anti-Rwandan forces based there]. Was that a setback for the declaration? A: I think you have to look at the larger picture when you look at this unfortunate development. In history, you often see that progress is not always straight. You sometimes have to go left or right but you pursue your objective. That is what happened here, because with the help of the international community the threat has not materialised. And now there is news that the FDLR [the Forces démocratique de libération du Rwanda] and the Rwandan government are talking and negotiating, with the help of the UN, to find a peaceful solution to this issue. And this is a key issue. The situation of the FDLR and the ex-FAR [troops of the former Rwandan army], is a real problem, not only to the DRC and not only to Rwanda but to the whole region. Q: So it's like a pimple that has now come to a head? A: It has long been a problem but people thought it was unnecessary to threaten to resort to force and it is just a few months ago that they realized otherwise. Now people are ready to face it. Q: Is it true that there have been very few members of any rebel groups or even of the military represented in this Great Lakes initiative? A: We have ensured that with each country there is adequate representation, not only of the governments but also of civil society, of youth and women. And you must remember that in Burundi, the government is a government of national unity. Their representatives are reflective of that reconciliation. It is the same thing in the DRC; in fact the vice-president in charge of this conference in DRC is the leader of the former rebel movement RCD [Rassemblement Congolais pour la democratie]. Q: But while you may have had some of the political rebel leaders, did you have the actual military leaders? A: They are coming now for this meeting in Mombasa because we are dealing with practical modalities. We have received the list of experts for the various themes and in the theme of peace and security there are many generals and colonels. Q: The AU announced recently that it would help disarm the Interahamwe and other anti-Rwanda forces based in the eastern Congo. Is that initiative integral to the Great Lakes initiative you are leading? A: That is a separate initiative. We cannot embrace everything but everything is interconnected. So, in general terms, we need to take other initiates into account, namely the African Union initiative. Although in fact the UN is also working on this. Just yesterday [Wednesday] the UN Security Council adopted a resolution asking MONUC [the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo] to deal with this issue. And it has enough teeth to deal with it. Q: The AU is also supposed to be a partner with the UN in leading this process but does it really have the necessary resources and expertise? A: As you say, the African Union is stretched with Darfur, Cote D'Ivoire and elsewhere but they are doing their best and they are working very closely with us. Q: How long will the joint UN/AU secretariat exist? A: That depends on what the countries in the region want. If the heads of state decide to create their own subregional secretariat [after the pact is signed in December] then it will be up to them to implement the pact. If they want us - the UN and the AU - to help monitor and implement then so it will be. Q: In the implementing phase, will the peacekeeping missions in the region become more regionalised? A: Already, every time we have a meeting, ONUB [the UN peacekeeping mission in Burundi] and MONUC in DRC are represented at our meetings and they are sending military experts to Mombasa. And with Central African Republic (CAR) now joining the process, BONUCA [the UN Peace-building Support Office in CAR] is also participating. But you are right; we will be working together even closer during the implementation phase. Q: Is it possible that we may have some kind of UN regional peacekeeping mission? A: Let's make this very clear. Peacekeeping is temporary and once peace comes to DRC after the transition - let us say in eight months or one year - the peacekeeping operation will begin to downsize. This Great Lakes process, on the other hand, is long term. And although there is a relation between the UN peacekeeping forces and the Great Lakes process it does not mean that those peacekeeping forces are going to be there forever.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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