EU calls Artemis operation "a big success"

The recent EU-led multinational peace enforcement mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Operation Artemis, was a "big humanitarian, military and political success", Aldo Ajello, the EU special representative for Africa’s Great Lakes Region, said on Wednesday during a debriefing for the media in Brussels, Belgium.

The EU-led mission was launched in Bunia, the main town of the embattled Ituri District, on 12 June 2003 and ended on 1 September.

In a joint statement, Ajello and France's Gen Bruno Neveux, the operation commander of Artemis, said the force "fulfilled its mission" by restoring security, helping people to return home and restart economic activity in Bunia.

"The determined attitude of the multinational force enabled a rapid elimination of the threat posed by aggressive armed groups in Bunia, as well as in the surrounding area," they said in the statement.

They added that there were only 40,000 inhabitants in Bunia before Artemis, but now there were 100,000. They added that markets had reopened and NGOs were now able to resume their humanitarian operations.

According to an EU statement, the success was also political, as the deployment of the force gave a decisive impetus for negociations leading to the installation of a two-year transitional national government, which was inaugurated on 30 June. Furthermore, it enable the interim assembly of Ituri, led by Petronille Vaweka, to resume its activities. [See IRIN interview with Vaweka at]

"The formation of a national unified army will be of utmost importance, as well as the question of demobilisation of armed groups," Ajello said.

He said about 40 militias were still operating in the east of the country.

As for the question of impunity, he said, "The warlords are negotiating power-sharing more than their impunity, but they could be surprised in the coming months: international justice is slow, but it arrives."

The two EU officials recalled that EU was supporting the transitional national government and the interim assembly of Ituri financially and technically. This includes the planned deployment of 3,000 national policemen in Ituri and the reform of the DRC's judiciary. On 3 September, the EU announced a cooperation programme with the DRC worth €205 million (US $229.2 million) for 2003 and 2004.

Some 2,200 soldiers from 17 countries, mainly France, and three continents participated in the Artemis operation, mandated by UN Security Council Resolution 1484 to stabilise Bunia and to increase humanitarian conditions until the reinforcement of the UN peacekeeping Mission, known as MONUC. The last elements of the Artemis force left Bunia on 6 September. It was the first autonomous EU-led operation, as well as the first outside Europe.