Commitments Received from Chairman of Congolese Rally for Democracy

(Reissued as received from the Office of the Special Representative. )

NEW YORK, 26 February — Olara A. Otunnu, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, has received commitments from the chairman of the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD), the principal Congolese insurgency movement, to observe a limited ceasefire for emergency humanitarian purposes, particularly the vaccination of children.

In a meeting in Gisenyi, Rwanda, on 22 February, Ernest Wamba Dia Wamba, chairman of the RCD, responded positively to several issues raised by Mr. Otunnu concerning the protection and welfare of children, including the recruitment and use of children in the armed conflict and the protection of civilian populations. Mr. Wamba travelled from Goma in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to meet with Mr. Otunnu in Gisenyi.

Mr. Wamba made the commitment to a temporary ceasefire in response to the Special Representative’s call for a respite in fighting, in order to allow for vaccinations and the special feeding of malnourished children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

After the two-hour discussion, Mr. Otunnu stated:

I am encouraged by the positive response and commitments I have received from Mr. Wamba. I look forward to following through on these commitments and to urging the RDC to translate them into concrete actions that can provide greater protection to children exposed to armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In the meeting, Mr. Otunnu raised various concerns, including the following:

— 1. A cease-fire for emergency humanitarian relief.

Mr. Otunnu expressed deep concern over the deteriorating situation of children in conflict zones in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He proposed a temporary cessation of hostilities for the humanitarian purposes of vaccination and the emergency feeding of malnourished children.

Mr. Wamba accepted this proposal and said the RCD would cooperate.

— 2. Protection of civilian populations.

The Special Representative expressed grave concern over the growing trend towards the targeting of civilian populations in situations of conflict. In this connection, he raised with Mr. Wamba the massacres of civilians at Makobolo near Uvira last January and earlier last August in Kasika in the southern Kivu region.

Mr. Otunnu emphasized the gravity of these events, and urged the RCD to accept the participation of international experts in conducting investigations. Mr. Wamba said the tragic events of Makobolo and Kasika were now under investigation; he accepted the participation of international experts to assist in the process.

— 3. Recruitment and use of child soldiers.

Mr. Otunnu expressed dismay over the continuing recruitment and use of child soldiers in the ongoing armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Mr. Wamba acknowledged that the RCD had inherited “kadogos” (Swahili for ‘little ones’), from the 1996-1997 war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and he said the RCD was ready to cooperate with United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations in ensuring demobilization and reintegration of child soldiers.

Mr. Otunnu urged the RCD to adopt the minimum age limit of 18 for the recruitment and participation in hostilities. In response, Mr. Wamba accepted in principle that the RCD would not recruit young persons below the age of 18. He said that precise mechanisms and practical arrangements need to be worked out for this purpose.

— 4. Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The Special Representative emphasized the importance for all parties to conflict, including non-State actors, to respect the principles and provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Mr. Wamba said the RCD would observe the Convention.

— 5. Curbing public dissemination of incendiary information.

The Special Representative expressed concern over the use of public information to incite ethnic and racial hatred, notably through the use of radio, television, tracts and public rallies.

He urged the RCD to refrain from employing these practices. Mr. Wamba accepted the appeal, stating that he shared the concerns of the Special Representative.

In concluding their discussion, Mr. Wamba described the very serious health, nutritional and educational conditions for children in war zones and appealed for increased international assistance.

The Special Representative, who is visiting three countries, Rwanda, Burundi and the Sudan, serves as an international advocate for children affected by armed conflict, by promoting their rights, protection and welfare during and after conflicts.

For further information, please contact:Victoria Graham (212) 963-5508, fax (212) 963-0807. Main number: (212) 963-3178