Belgian mission evaluating military cooperation needs

A Belgian delegation is currently touring the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in order to evaluate progress and outstanding needs in the unification of the country's national military.

"As Belgium has a lead role to play in the formation of a unified [Congolese] brigade in Bunia [principal town of Ituri District, northeastern DRC] the delegation is conducting a reconnaissance mission," Detavernier Woutere, the press attaché at the Belgian embassy, told IRIN on Monday in the capital, Kinshasa.

Despite a certain degree of success in bringing the country together after nearly five years of war, economically-driven fighting among ethnic-based militias has continued in Ituri among non-signatories to a national peace accord.

The 20-person delegation has already visited Kisangani, in northeastern DRC, as well as Kamina, in central Katanga Province of southeastern Congo, site of one of the country's largest military bases.

"The delegation is currently evaluating logistical matters, as well as studying the possibilities of deployment of a mixed [Congolese] force in Bunia and increased military cooperation between Belgium and the Congo," Woutere said.

"The formation of this brigade will be one of the first steps in Belgium's support of a unified Congolese army," Woutere said.

He added that it would also be studying the state of military training institutes in the country.

During a visit in August, Belgian Defence Minister Andre Flahaut pledged his government's continued support for the peace and stability efforts in the Congo. [See IRIN story, "Belgian, French defence ministers vow continued support"] Several Congolese military officers travelled to Belgium following Flahaut's visit to take part in military training courses.

The leadership of a unified national army was inaugurated on 5 September. However, progress in bringing the military's rank and file together has been slow. In late October, an international committee overseeing the two-year transitional process in the DRC chided the government for a wide range of delays, including the formation of a unified national army. [see earlier IRIN story, "Oversight committee chides transitional government for delays"]

The delegation, which arrived on Thursday, is due to complete its mission on Wednesday.