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William Lacy Swing

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William Lacy Swing

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As the Democratic Republic of Congo prepares for to its first free and fair elections in over 40 years, the United Nations biggest ever peacekeeping force is being joined by sixteen hundred EU peacekeepers to be stationed there and in neighbouring Gabon.

William Lacy Swing heads the UN’s (twenty thousand strong) peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, known by the acronym MONUC.

He spoke to EuroNews about the election due on the 30th of July, which is supposed to end decades of dictatorship, war and chaos.

However, it is being boycotted by the main opposition party. And there are worries about the security of the poll … as despite an official ceasefire, rebel attacks continue in the east.

EuroNews: Election day is approaching. Do you fear bloody clashes?

William Lacy Swing: No, we expect these elections to take place in a calm atmosphere. It is something that the Congolese people have ardently desired for a long time, and I base that on the large number who went out to register: nearly 26 million out of (eligible voting population of) 28 million – which is phenomenal. And the fact that they turned out again for a referendum (last year on a new constitution). And we must bare in mind, it’s not like in Europe or in the western hemisphere. These people sometimes have to walk 30 to 40 kilometres to stand in line for five or six hours to get a registration card and then to be able to vote. So, it’s a sacrifice.

Euronews: The crucial day, actually, it’s not the election day, but the days after election. What is going happen?

William Lacy Swing:
That’s right, that’s absolutely right. You’ll have to get a good election, but you also must have a good aftermath. And to do that you have to get winners who are magnanimous and losers who accept the results of a good election, and the election has to be a good one.

EuroNews: Fighting is still going on, especially in the eastern parts of RD Congo. So, what is going wrong? Are you still in control of the situation?

William Lacy Swing:
I think we are. When I say we, I mean the Congolese army with the support of this large UN-force of about 17,000. About 85% of that 17,000 are based in the east. We are undertaking together joint military operations. They (the rebels) are in very isolated pockets of the two provinces of Kivu and the district of Ituri. There are about 9,000 foreign armed elements still running around…

EuroNews: Why?

William Lacy Swing:
They are there because some of them are afraid that they would have to go to trial. Some of them, many of them, were involved in the (Rwanda) genocide, they are afraid to go home and many of them who want to go home can not go home because their commanders wouldn’t let them. We are trying to get them out. We have managed to repatriate 13,000 and we are confident that the others will go, but it’s going to take a while.

EuroNews: Why not ask for stronger support from the European Union? Why not ask for more soldiers to come here to RD Congo?

William Lacy Swing:
It’s important to look at it in the context in which the request (by the UN/MONUC to the EU/EUFOR) was made. The request was made for electoral security. And this is not talking about getting rid of the foreign armed groups, that is a different story. That’s why they (the EUFOR soldiers) are going to be primarily based in the west rather than in the east where we (MONUC) have most of our troops.

EuroNews: What is your security analysis, for August?

William Lacy Swing:
I think reasonably good. We clearly do not have as many police or military as would be desirable. But they’ve made a lot of progress. To date, we and others – including a number of European countries and the European Union – have helped to train about 40.000 (Congolese army soldiers), we expect to get to 50.000 by the time of the elections. The government has demobilised about 111,000 of their 190,000 troops. They have got about 12 new (integrated and ethnically mixed) brigades formed. They are lacking equipment and lots of other things, but they are present.

EuroNews: Let’s look at the Congolese army. They have ex-militia-fighters in the Congolese army. Do you trust the Congolese army? Or, to put it another way, actually, 70% of human rights violations are committed by the Congolese army. So how do you handle this problem?

William Lacy Swing:
You are putting your finger on a real problem. We can do the integration (of the formerly competing ethnically structured militia groups) through the (new Congolese army) training programmes. But what happens then is: you have to put in place an administrated structure – that is being recommended by the European Union – that will ensure the regular payment of salaries and provision of food – to start with. Then there is the question of trying to find adequate logistical support: vehicles, equipment, ammunition. And so it makes it very difficult for us to do our operations until we get that. But it’s a work in progress and that will happen in time.

EuroNews: How is your cooperation with the European Union? How this will work out; MONUC and the forces of the European Union – how will they work together?

William Lacy Swing: Well, they will be clearly under their own command, we have a close collaboration, we have a memorandum of understanding. And I think there is good collaboration of the force commander of MONUC and the force commander of EUFOR, General Viereck. They have spoken, they have been here together on visits; because what the European force will bring, not only will they augment our force, but they will bring capacities that we do not have right now, so it works well.

EuroNews: When will the conflict be settled, actually? When can you say: it’s over, mission completed, I can leave?

William Lacy Swing:
What happens when you have good elections? Two things. First of all: Public expectations explode and international support declines, because people, a lot of people, see elections as the exit door and in fact it is the beginning. So we have got now to make the case, that the international community, particularly the UN, should stay the course, and to do that we have to continue to produce results that keeps the process credible and keeps this mission credible. So we have a lot of work ahead for ourselves.