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Published: Friday, 11/7/2008

Congo's turmoil

The Democratic Republic of the Congo's turmoil is out of reach of the United States, but the U.N. and European Union could step in

REPORTS of fighting and perhaps a quarter-million people displaced indicate that matters are going terribly wrong again in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The problem lies in the east, outside the reach of the capital Kinshasa and involving a disaffected, armed minority group, the Banyamulenge, Congolese Tutsis. They are supported by the Tutsis, who rule Rwanda, just across the border.

Three armies are involved. One is the rebels, well-armed and somewhat disciplined, led by Gen. Laurent Nkunda, an ambitious man who sees himself as the protector of the Congolese Tutsis. The second is the Congolese national army, ill-led and undisciplined, probably more or less unpaid, prone to looting at the slightest pretext and inclined to flee when confronted by an organized force. The third is the United Nations peacekeeping force, 17,000-strong, multinational, well-paid and well-armed, but insufficient in numbers to deal with disorder in an area as large as the eastern Congo.

The Congo had expensive, organized, internationally overseen elections in 2006. They produced an elected government with a president, Joseph Kabila, and a parliament, which had a mandate to govern the country. In principle, there are no grounds for General Nkunda's undue concern for the well-being of the Congolese Tutsis and the rebellion.

But there is still widespread corruption in the country. The reconstruction of the national army, which had to be a very high priority for the country with 65 million people and an area almost the size of the United States east of the Mississippi, has been neglected.

Can anything be done? The Congolese national army must be strengthened. While the United States can do little while it is preoccupied in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United Nations and the European Union are interested. Second, the Kabila government must talk to General Nkunda. He is, by all reports, a scoundrel, but he is well-installed in the eastern Congo with a credible armed force.

Third, the United States must talk with Rwanda, one of its favorites in Africa, and make sure that its leaders understand that it must not provide military or other assistance to General Nkunda, in spite of the common Tutsi heritage of its government leaders and the rebels. All continued U.S. aid to Rwanda must be made conditional upon its staying clear of the new growing tragedy in the eastern Congo.

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