IRIN interview with outgoing MONUC Force Commander, Maj-Gen Mountaga Diallo

Maj-Gen Mountaga Diallo was appointed Force Commander of the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) in March 2000. Before his appointment by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Diallo was chief inspector of the armed forces in Senegal, his country of origin.

He began his military career in September 1963, and was successively promoted to the upper military ranks, becoming a Maj-Gen in January 1999.

After serving from 1991 to 1993 as commander of the Senegalese contingent in Liberia and head of the liaison officers with the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG), the West African peacekeeping force, Diallo was promoted to the rank of army chief of staff in July 1993, and then assistant deputy chief of staff from July 1996 to January 1998.

Diallo, who is married and has four children, spoke with IRIN on Tuesday. He talked about his nearly four years in the DRC, the difficulties he encountered, the progress that was made and prospects for a lasting peace in the country.

QUESTION: You are completing a four-year mandate as MONUC force commander. How would you evaluate your mission?

ANSWER: It has been a positive experience. The peace process has reached a very good level, which I would go as far as to say is encouraging.

Q: Nevertheless, you have encountered numerous obstacles along the way. What are some of the primary difficulties you encountered during your time as MONUC force commander?

A: There were some difficulties. I would say that we encountered some major problems when we were first trying to deploy our observers. I arrived in April 2000, but it was not until the end of the year that we obtained authorization to deploy them.

Then, the deployment of troops was not easy, even though we had been given a green light under the Kampala accord and the Harare sub-plan - the famous disengagement/redeployment at the beginning of Phase III.

Also, there were problematic moments of a far more serious nature, such as what we faced in Ituri [District, northeastern DRC], in May and June, especially. The murder of our observers in Mongbwalu was one particularly low point.

Q: From several hundred UN military observers in the year 2000, MONUC now has some 10,800 men in the field. Nevertheless, some Congolese and even some international observers continue to accuse MONUC of inefficiency, especially with regard to the situation in Ituri. How would you respond to this criticism?

A: As you have said, we started with a few hundred observers. The elements that joined them later were meant for protection and security of MONUC personnel, installations and materiel.

It is necessary to know what our mandate was, and what means we had available. It is very important to understand the many difficulties we had to face in carrying out our mandate.

As for inefficiency, call it what you'd like, but the ceasefire was respected, and the disengagement and redeployment [of forces] took place. [The forces] generally remained in their new defensive positions without any fighting that led to a degeneration in the status quo and a serious resumption of hostilities. There were a few small clashes, that is all.

As for the DDR [demobilisation, disarmament and repatriation], the withdrawal of foreign troops took place and was verified. There were a few episodes, in particular in Kisangani [in northeastern DRC].

During Kisangani II and III, we only had observers in place. We increased from two teams to eight teams. These observers helped to verify the withdrawal of Rwandan and Ugandan troops, which helped bring an end to fighting in the city. However, complete demilitarisation was not achieved because forces of RCD-Goma [Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie-Goma, formerly a Rwandan-backed rebel movement that is now part of the Congo's two-year transitional government and unified military] remained in place, which led to many discussions within the UN and even at the level of the [UN] Security Council. These forces remained in Kisangani until the transitional period arrived. Their presence was significant during the time of the Kisangani massacre.

We were told that there had been a mutiny within RCD and that RCD authorities wanted to put it down. We realized that mutiny or not, the management of this affair by RCD had gone almost completely out of control, with exactions and murders being committed.

So we first tried to intervene with the RCD. We carried out patrols, and that is when we came across people who were being shot on Tshopo bridge. The killings were ended thanks to our intervention. For several days more, in peripheral areas and of course during the night, additional operations were undertaken and the situation eventually settled down.

Q: Many people think that MONUC has been incapable of confirming the presence of Rwandan troops who allegedly returned to the DRC after Rwanda's official withdrawal, or that MONUC has been incapable of identifying Rwandan, Ugandan and Burundian forces that have continued to operate on Congolese territory.

A: With regard to accusations of the presence of Rwandan troops, we have conducted numerous verification missions, and continue to do so. But it is important to recognize the difficulties we face. For a long time, there was a kind of "osmosis" between RCD and Rwandan troops, who were present on Congolese territory for several years. Oftentimes, RCD troops were effectively under the command of Rwanda.

There was also the fact that the area controlled by Rwanda and RCD was essentially the same. Furthermore, RCD troops wore the same uniforms and carried the same arms as the Rwandans. So, for a MONUC observer, it is practically impossible to visually distinguish a Congolese [soldier] from a Rwandan [soldier]. Therefore, what was required was an investigation, an in-depth inquiry, and it was for this reason that we asked that mixed teams be assembled including representatives from the Congolese armed forces, MONUC, South Africa, and even representatives from the Rwandan armed forces, to enable us to carry out verifications in the field. In effect, I think that only the Congolese, and those from the east in particular, can tell the difference, can ask the right questions and determine whether a soldier wearing a uniform like everyone else is Rwandan or Congolese.

These operations were carried out in the context of what was called the "third party verification mechanism", TPVM. However, several months of verifications and investigations found no Rwandans present.

Nevertheless, about two or three months ago, we received information about the presence of Rwandan forces. This time, we conducted our verification missions in a more targeted manner. What struck us was that not only did all of the local population say that Rwandan troops were present, but so did Congolese soldiers. Moreover, we ran into a number of obstructions from certain military commanders who presented themselves as Congolese. These commanders denied us access to certain bases, certain locations and certain camps. They also prohibited us from speaking with their men. At that point, we called upon the Congolese armed forces to join us in these verification missions, because by then the unified national army had been inaugurated. This enabled us to accelerate the identification of men, a necessary step in the formation of a unified army.

Q: Why? Did you finally receive authorization to visit those camps?

A: No, because I think that the integration of the [Congolese] army is underway and that this identification will really take place. MONUC will participate in this identification if the Congolese so wish. At that point, we will know if individual Rwandans were present, or if entire platoons had infiltrated Congolese forces.

Furthermore, I think that things will be sorted out because at the political level there exists a willingness on both sides to normalize relations between the two countries. We can only encourage them. I would simply repeat what was said by the spokesman of the Congolese president [Joseph Kabila] who said that they will try to believe that Rwanda is telling the truth until they receive evidence to the contrary.

Q: How would you evaluate the demobilisation, disarmament, repatriation, reinsertion and reintegration (DDRRR) programme?

A: Things have been a bit unblocked and appear to be advancing. First of all, as you know, there was the episode of General Rwarakabije [leader of the Forces democratiques de liberation du Rwanda (FDLR) who returned to Rwanda on 15 November along with some 103 of his soldiers after nearly 10 years in the DRC]. We continue to hope that this will serve to encourage even greater numbers of Rwandan combatants to return from the forests of eastern DRC.

After that, we saw an increase in what we call "Ad Hoc DDR", by which people spontaneously presented themselves to us for repatriation to Rwanda and elsewhere.

Most recently, elements [754 men] of what we called the "Sierra Battalion" were repatriated to Uganda and Rwanda. They had been assembled in Kitona [Military Base, Bas-Congo Province] before returning home.

So, there are encouraging signs. We are continuing to try to make contacts, to disseminate information, to try our best to convince combatants to agree to repatriation. For us, however, DDR remains a voluntary process. The offer is there. Guarantees have been provided by Rwanda. The international community is in a position to check what is happening at any given moment. I think that the combatants will ultimately seize the offer to return to their homes.

Q: How many have been repatriated to date? What obstacles remain to prevent other combatants from returning to their countries?

A: More than 4,000 have been repatriated in total, with their dependants. We are approaching some 5,000 in total.

Perhaps what is preventing others from returning is a fear of what fate awaits them back home. For this reason, we are trying to reassure them that they have nothing to fear. Still others perhaps have no intention of returning [to Rwanda] because they were involved in the [1994] genocide. But let us hope that they will come to some understanding.

Q: UN Security Council Resolution 1493 strengthened MONUC's mandate, authorizing it to disarm and canton armed groups in eastern DRC, with the use of force, if necessary. However, it seems that MONUC has not taken full advantage of this mandate. What has prevented you from doing so?

A: With regard to the east, let's start first with the Kivus and Maniema. With the exception of foreign armed groups which are present - namely, the Rwandan former army [ex-FAR], the Interahamwe [Rwandan Hutu militias], the FDD [Forces pour la defense de la democratie, from Burundi] and the FNL [Forces nationales de liberation, also from Burundi] - you have the Mayi-Mayi [Congolese militias], who are no longer to be considered as an uncontrolled armed group. They are members of the [government] of transition, members of the Forces armees de la RDC [the name of the unified national military], they are taking part in the integration process of the Forces armees de la RDC.

Next, there are the other groups in Ituri. Chapter Seven [of the UN Charter] authorizes us to use force to disarm [armed] groups. Following the establishment of the pacification commission, interim institutions were inaugurated in Ituri. For example, the consultation committee of armed groups in Ituri meets on a regular basis and discusses disarmament and reinsertion.

We have asked these groups to canton themselves, to remain peaceful, to avoid creating insecurity by carrying out exactions, pillage, theft, rape and all other violations against the population.

A plan exists. I am convinced that come the new year, we will without doubt be able to offer reinsertion [into civilian life] to interested combatants who might not be integrated into the national army.

In the meantime, everywhere we are deployed and to whatever degree possible, we are trying to put an end to all types of exactions and disorder. And believe me, clashes are frequent, and unfortunate. The situation will soon be clear: either they [armed groups] take part in the programme for disengagement, reintegration and reinsertion, or we will fight them. In any case, we are fighting and we will fight anyone who tries to create disorder or who carries out attacks on innocent populations.

Q: You played a major role in moving forward negotiations that led to agreement on the formation of a unified national Congolese army. How do you view this unification? Is it still at a fragile stage?

A: I would say that it is advancing. It is on the right track, and I am optimistic. During these final days of my mission, I am still in contact with leaders of the new military. Although we are still at the beginning, there is no reason that it will not continue to move in the right direction.

Q: Politically speaking, do you think the Congolese will be ready to lead their country to elections and a new political order within two years?

A: Yes, absolutely. Perhaps I am just a simple soldier, but I just do not see how the Congolese could accept to continue in the misery that prevails at present. With their leadership now in place, I am convinced that the Congolese want to move forward, want to make of their country what the rest of the world is waiting for: a big, beautiful, rich and powerful country. It is for these reasons that I believe the Congolese will succeed.

Q: You came close to being killed aboard a helicopter that came under fire during a mission to Ituri, where military observers were killed. Investigations were launched, but the results have never been made public. Are you now in a position to tell us what these investigations found?

A: No, not for the moment. As far as I am concerned, I will simply say that these are the risks of the job. I can also tell you that I have risked my life far more seriously in other places, notably in Liberia. Here [in the Ituri incident], what was unfortunate is that I had just spoken with Thomas Lubanga [then the leader of the Union des patriotes congolais militia] and his staff to try to convince them to agree to a ceasefire and to then take part in the preparatory committee of the Ituri Pacification Commission. This was part of implementation of the Luanda Accord. I still do not understand why they tried to get rid of me.

Otherwise, it is true that I lost some men here in accidents, particularly due to landmines in Komanda, near Ikela [central DRC]. And then there were the two who were savagely killed in Mongbwalu [northeastern DRC]. That was incomprehensible. They were simply two unarmed and harmless observers that we deployed following the ceasefire agreement signed by all parties on 18 March. [Those murders] were regrettable and unfortunate.

Q: Political and military reunification are underway. Do you have the impression that you are leaving when there is nothing left to do?

A: No, not at all. I did not choose to leave. It has been planned for at least eight months now. Considering what is typical, I believe that I have had an exceptionally long mission as force commander. Perhaps this was due to the evolution of the peace process. I have no regrets in leaving. I am content to leave knowing that we have reached this nearly irreversible stage.

Q: What must your successor do to see this country through to elections?

A: He must do his job. I have no doubt that he will succeed because those who chose him are the same people who chose me! Moreover, the partners with which he will be working, Congolese in particular, are the same as those with whom I have worked and who helped me to succeed. There is no reason for things not to continue in a positive direction. He will succeed.

Q: What will become of General Diallo after MONUC?

A: General Diallo will return to his home in Senegal. After nearly four years here in Congo and after a bit more than 40 years of service, I am going to hang up my uniform, take off my boots and try to reintegrate myself into civilian life.