19 May 2007 04:13

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AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE: COHEN SETS LIMITS TO US MILITARY INVOLVEMENT IN AFRICA
81% match; Agence France Presse Intl. (AFM) ; 17-Feb-2000 12:00:00 am ; 572 words

Defense Secretary William Cohen set limits this week to US military involvement in African conflicts, drawing a red line at the use of US ground troops as peacekeepers in places like the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo.

Cohen returned early Thursday from a weeklong trip to Morocco and South Africa, where he told leaders that logistics, communications and intelligence were as much as the US military could offer.

"No combat troops or peacekeeping troops," he said in Pretoria this week at a press conference with South African Defense Minister Patrick Lekota. "We are talking about support activities."

That marker comes as President Bill Clinton launches a diplomatic push to help end the fighting in the DRC, where six countries and an assortment of rebel groups have been vying for power in Africa's biggest war.

The United States is expected to vote in favor of a UN Security Council resolution by next week authorizing the deployment a 5,500 member UN force to monitor a shaky DRC ceasfire agreed to by six African presidents in Lusaka in July.

The make-up of the mission - 500 observers and 5,000 troops to protect and support them - reflects the dangers and complexities of monitoring a ceasefire over an area the size of western Europe with few roads and poor communications.

South Africa has said it will contribute troops to the force, but the details of who will lead it and where the troops are going to come from are still in question.

Under a US-backed proposal, a full fledged 15,000-strong peacekeeping force would be deployed at a later date but only if all the rebel forces sign the peace agreement and a reconciliation process is underway.

Former Rwandan army and Hutu militias in eastern DRC have so far refused to sign on to a peace agreement.

Former South African President Nelson Mandela believes the militias should be disarmed, acknowleging "it's a dangerous situation indeed."

Without a larger US military role "it's going to be very difficult for the UN to make progress," Mandela said in Quni, South Africa this week with Cohen at his side

Asked whether Washington should contribute peacekeeping troops, Mandela said, "That is what is demanded. The more peacemakers we have in the Congo the better."

The debate over the DRC has a deja vu quality to it - with the Defense Department urging caution and the State Department advocating a more active US role.

Leading the charge on the State Department side is Richard Holbrooke, the US diplomat who brought peace in the Balkans but at the cost of a long-term peacekeeping commitment that the Pentagon is chafing under.

Holbrooke, now US ambassador to the United Nations, told Congress this week the United States has a "clear national interest" in supporting UN efforts to bring peace.

"Congo is a contagion of conflict: if the conflict there is allowed to fester, efforts to resolve conflicts and promote stability throughout the region - in Angola, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda and Sudan - will even be more difficult," he said.

Cohen, however, has said US forces are stretched too thin to take on another peacekeeping mission, and has evoked the disastrous experience in Somalia, where the killing of 17 American soldiers in a 1993 Mogadishu firefight prompted the withdrawal of a humiliated US force.

Cohen pointed to East Timor as a model for future peacekeeping missions.

The US military airlifted an Australian-led international force to the territory and supported it with communications, intelligence and logistics - but not ground troops.

The Pentagon is looking to South Africa and Nigeria to play the Australian role in their respective regions.

But it's a tougher sell than in Sydney. South Africa's leaders, once former ANC guerrillas, remain wary of US intentions and say they are not interested in taking part in ACRI.

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