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Preventing genocide.

Byline: The Register-Guard

The most vicious, lethal - and obscure - war in the world can be found in the heart of Africa.

Not many Americans are aware that the death toll of the war in the Congo is at least 3 million - more than the combined totals of both gulf wars, the war in Afghanistan and all of the Balkan wars of the past decade. The International Rescue Committee estimates that one in every eight homes in the Congo has suffered a violent death. In some regions, three-fourths of children born during the war have either died - or will die - before their second birthday as a direct result of the conflict between and among tribes and militia units in Congo, Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda.

The international response to the conflict has been inadequate and ineffective. Diplomatic interventions by the United Nations and South Africa, and the dispatching of 5,000 U.N. observers, have failed to slow the conflict. A December 2002 power-sharing agreement was followed by the recent massacre of more than a thousand people in Bunia, the largest city in the northeastern region of the vast and mineral-rich country.

Earlier this month, the United Nations approved the deployment of a French-led, 1,400-member peacekeeping force temporarily assigned to protect civilians. While a substantial improvement over past U.N. inaction, the new force lacks the strength - and, more importantly, the mandate - necessary to stop the mass killings, which threaten to spiral into genocide.

The Security Council should authorize a significantly larger contingent of troops and grant them the broad authority necessary to enforce the much-trampled peace agreement. A stronger U.S. diplomatic role is also needed to apply pressure on all parties to honor the agreements they've already signed. The United States, with its current military commitments in the Middle East, needn't be part of a peacekeeping force. But a focused effort by U.S. and European diplomats, combined with a strong international peacekeeping presence, could make a huge and decisive difference.

The killing and suffering has gone on far too long in the Congo. The conflict began in the wake of the Rwandan massacre of 1994, when the Hutu militiamen who slaughtered up to a million ethnic Tutsis fled across the border into what was then Zaire. From there, they continued to stage attacks across the border and to harass local Tutsis.

While the war has ethnic origins, it also has become a free-for-all struggle for Congo's wealth in gold diamonds and coltan, an obscure but valuable mineral that is a vital ingredient in cell phones, laptops and pagers. Zimbabwe, Rwanda and Uganda, in particular, have used the conflict to exploit the region's minerals. It's estimated that the Rwandan government alone has used the conflict to seize minerals that exceed the entire value of that nation's annual exports.

A major escalation of the U.N. peacekeeping presence, and a focused U.S. and European diplomatic offensive, are not steps that should be taken lightly - in Africa or anywhere else in the world. There are significant risks at every twist in the trail. But when killing threatens to escalate into genocide, the world must respond.
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Title Annotation:U.N. must step up efforts to end Congo war; Editorials
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Geographic Code:6CONG
Date:Jun 16, 2003
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