Congo rebel backs U.N. peace plan, fighting persists

November 16, 2008
By Finbarr O’Reilly
JOMBA, Congo

Congolese rebel leader Laurent Nkunda agreed on Sunday to support a U.N. peace plan for eastern Congo, including a body to oversee a ceasefire, but fighting between the army and rebels raged on in one zone.

Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo (L) stands with rebel leader Laurent Nkunda as they meet in the village of Jnomba in eastern Congo, November 16, 2008. (REUTERS/Finbarr O’Reilly)

After talks with United Nations special envoy Olusegun Obasanjo at Jomba in Democratic Republic of Congo’s North Kivu province, Nkunda said he had agreed to three requests from him — to respect a ceasefire, open a humanitarian corridor to aid refugees, and support the U.N. peace initiative.

“We agree,” Nkunda told reporters in French.

But he had asked Obasanjo, a former Nigerian head of state, to tell Congolese President Joseph Kabila’s government to also respect a suspension of military hostilities.

“We support his mission … he has got support from the international community … we are behind him and we are going to do our part so we can get on with this peace,” Nkunda, wearing a grey suit and carrying a cane topped with a silver eagle’s head, said in other comments in English.

Obasanjo met Nkunda at his home village in the foothills of the Virunga mountains, close to the Rwandan and Ugandan borders. After their talks, the two briefly danced with rebel fighters and children outside the church compound where they met.

But as they met, U.N. peacekeepers reported heavy fighting on Sunday between Nkunda’s National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) rebels and Congo’s army near the village of Ndeko, 110 km (70 miles) north of the provincial capital Goma.

The U.N. troubleshooter, who held talks on Saturday with Congolese President Joseph Kabila, is seeking to prevent the fighting in North Kivu from escalating into a repeat of a wider 1998-2003 Congo war that sucked in six neighbouring states.

Obasanjo, who flew back to the North Kivu provincial capital Goma, said the talks with Nkunda went “extremely well”.

“Nkunda wants to maintain a ceasefire but it’s like dancing the tango. You can’t do it alone,” Obasanjo said.

He said later in Goma Nkunda had agreed to a tripartite committee to monitor ceasefire violations, but on the condition that the U.N. peacekeeping force in Congo was not involved. Nkunda says the U.N. peacekeepers are biased against him.

Weeks of combat between Nkunda’s Tutsi rebels and government troops and their militia allies have displaced around a quarter of a million civilians, creating what aid agencies call a “catastrophic” humanitarian situation in east Congo.

ROCKET AND MORTAR BATTLE

U.N. military spokesman Lt-Col Jean-Paul Dietrich said the Ndeko combat did not help the peace process: “The army is firing rockets. The CNDP is using mortars. It’s not a good sign if they continue to fight while the special envoy is holding talks”.

Nkunda played down the latest fighting, saying it was “not a problem” and he had contacted the government to try to end it.

The United Nations said it was impossible to say who had started the clashes and at least six government soldiers had been wounded.

The roots of the North Kivu conflict stem from Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, when extremist Hutu militias killed about 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus before fleeing into Congo.

That led to two wars and a humanitarian crisis that killed more than five million people, mostly from hunger and disease.

In 2004, Nkunda rejected peace deals that ended the last war. He accuses Kabila of arming and using a Rwandan Hutu rebel group, the FDLR, which includes perpetrators of the 1994 genocide, to fight with the weak and chaotic Congolese army.

The Congolese president accuses Rwanda, whose soldiers fought in Congo’s last war, ostensibly to hunt down the Hutu militia, of supporting Nkunda’s rebellion.

Nkunda spokesman Bertrand Bisimwa blamed the government for Sunday’s fighting. “The army attacked us this morning,” he said.

But he insisted this would not derail the peace talks. “He (Obasanjo) is not blind. He will see who is responsible for the clashes. While he talks peace, the government attacks us.”

The Congolese army was not available for comment.

Nkunda initially took up arms saying he was fighting to defend fellow Tutsis in Congo from attack by the Rwandan Hutu FDLR. But, after marching to the gates of Goma last month, he is now calling for unconditional direct talks with the president.

Kabila has so far rejected negotiations.

(Additional reporting by David Lewis in Kinshasa, Emmanuel Braun in Jomba and Hereward Holland in Goma)

Source

Search for peace ‘doomed’ by scramble for minerals in Congo

Doctors Without Boarders Providing Assistance in North Kivu, DRC


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Published in: on November 16, 2008 at 7:29 pm  Comments Off on Congo rebel backs U.N. peace plan, fighting persists  
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Stephen Harper hid the actual cost of the War

Stephen Harper hid the cost of the war


As you may have seen from reports in yesterday and today’s morning newspapers, the cost of the war in Afghanistan will reach $18 billion by the end of 2011, according to a new report released by the Parliamentary Budget Office.

The report, by Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page, does not even include the salaries of the 2500 soldiers in Afghanistan, and is still much higher than the $8 billion estimated cost provided by the Conservative government, which included salaries.

I attended the press conference yesterday in Ottawa, and during the announcement of the investigation, Page noted that this study is incomplete because he did not receive full co-operation from government departments, including the military. Even worse, those departments may not realize how much they are spending on the war because of sloppy accounting.

This the first public costing of the war completed by a government office or department. The study was produced at the request of NDP MP for Ottawa Centre Paul Dewar.

Earlier this week, David Macdonald and I released our own costing of the war in Afghanistan called The Cost of the War and the End of Peacekeeping: The Impact of Extending the Afghanistan Mission.

Based on our calculations, the cost of the war to the government coffers, including the salaries of the troops, will be $21 billion. Add to that the financial loss felt by families and communities from so many young men and women injured or killed, and the impact reaches $28 billion.

I was astounded to see that the Parliamentary Budget Office’s findings, when adjusted to use comparable methodologies, are actually much higher than our own results. Therefore the real cost is higher than anyone imagines.

Our report went a step further to look at our military’s contribution to peacekeeping, and we learned that it has dropped by more than 80 per cent since the beginning of the Afghanistan war. This year the military will spend a paltry $15 million for the entire year on UN peacekeeping, the equivalent of what we spend on the war in just two or three days. We contribute only 63 soldiers for UN peacekeeping operations – they could all fit into a school bus!

Yesterday we were busy discussing the cost of the war to Canadians through the national news media, in both Quebec and the rest of Canada. Here you can watch interviews on CTV Newsnet, CBC Radio, CBC TV, GlobalTV, and Business News Network. We also received coverage in The Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star and elsewhere.

Our message was this:

• The $18 billion estimate for the cost of the Afghanistan war provided by the Parliamentary Budget Office is very large – the largest anyone has seen. It is welcome information and should serve as a basis for further reporting.

• The number is likely too low, because the office did not receive full co-operation from the departments involved, including the military. The Prime Minister should have instructed departments to co-operate fully.

• It is appalling that Conservative and Liberal MPs voted to extend the war by three years, to December 2011, without even knowing that they were approving the expenditure of an additional $7 billion over the $11 billion already spent.

• With financial storm clouds gathering on the horizon and no large budget surpluses to rely upon, will the government cut social programs to fund the war and avoid tax increases or a deficit?

I would like to hear from you. Do you think the Afghanistan war has been worth the cost?

Source

Stephen Harper hid the cost of the war

Sparks fly over Afghan mission cost

Budget officer admits $18.1B estimate likely low

Mike Blanchfield , Canwest News Service

Published: Thursday, October 09, 2008

OTTAWA – Opposition leaders attacked Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Thursday for hiding the full cost of the Afghanistan mission after the Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page said a lack of “transparency” meant his projection of up to $18.1 billion was on the low side.

The eagerly awaited report of the cost of Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan catapulted the mission back to the centre of the federal election with five days left in the campaign.

Page took pains to present his office’s analysis – sparked by a request from a frustrated NDP MP – as apolitical.

The cost of the war in Afghanistan, from the time it began until it is scheduled to end in 2011, will cost each and every Canadian household $1,500.

But Page’s criticism of a confused bureaucracy that didn’t have its numbers straight placed Harper on the defensive when the Liberals, NDP and the Bloc Quebecois piled on criticism.

Page’s report cites a cost in the range of $13.9 billion to $18.1 billion to 2011. But several relevant departments – including Foreign Affairs and the Canadian International Agency, the military’s two main partners in Afghanistan – refused to give his office additional figures beyond what they had already posted on their websites.

Page’s estimate means each household is contributing $1,500 to support the deployment. But because of inconsistent government bookkeeping, that figure would be significantly higher because departments “have not met any appropriate standard or best practice,” said Page, who called on Treasury Board to implement a streamlined practice.

“Budget transparency for parliamentarians and Canadians needs to be improved,” Page said. “When compared with international experience, Canada appears to lag behind the best practices of other jurisdictions.”

Page did not spare the previous Liberal government, which first sent Canadian troops to Afghanistan, when he said: “Although Canada is in the seventh year of the mission, Parliament has not been provided with estimates by successive governments on the fiscal costs incurred by all relevant departments.”

Paul Dewar, the NDP MP for Ottawa Centre who requested Page’s investigation, said knowing the true cost of the mission would have radically changed the House of Commons debate earlier this year that extended the Afghanistan mission by two years to 2011.

“The reason I asked the Parliamentary Budget Officer for this study is because the government would not answer my questions in the House nor at committee nor through order paper question. So Canadians were never given the facts,” Dewar said. “This is the tip of the iceberg as you’ve heard today.”

Dewar argued Page’s finding showed Harper could not be trusted and he reiterated his party’s stand that Canada’s 2,500 troops should be withdrawn within months.

Page’s estimate is still significantly higher than the original $8 billion that has been publicly cited, said Dewar.

The Canwest News Service first reported that figure in April based on an Access to Information request made by the NDP.

“The debate is not that the numbers are wrong. It’s a debate about what to include and what not to include. This is something that governments of both stripes have been supporting for a decade,” the prime minister said.

“One can go back and debate, ‘Should we have made this commitment in 2002, should we have gone into Kandahar in 2005?’ These are interesting questions. But the fact is the commitment was made, and this government has no option but to respect its obligations.”

Liberal Leader Stephane Dion accused Harper failing to provide Canadians with an accurate year-to-year account of spending.

“It is the false transparency that is the problem,” said Dion.

Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe said the Conservatives were not being “transparent and honest” with Canadians.

“In presenting numbers that were grossly erroneous on the cost of the mission in Afghanistan, Harper wanted to mislead the population,” Duceppe said.

Page was supposed to report to Parliament last month, but it was dissolved when Harper called an election.

Page then said he would be willing to release his figures before Canadians went to the polls on Oct. 14 if all major party leaders agreed. They did.

The report said that CIDA’s departmental performance reports “do not provide annual spending in Afghanistan for individual projects.”

The Canadian government has earmarked $1.9 billion between 2001-2011 for development spending in Afghanistan.

“VAC (Veterans Affairs Canada) does not report basic financial data specific to the Afghanistan mission, although Canada’s involvement in the Afghanistan mission is a major project and the death, disability, medical and stress related payments are fiscally material,” the report said.

So far, 97 Canadian soldiers and one diplomat have been killed in Afghanistan, while hundreds more have been injured.

The military also does not provide “mission specific details” to parliament, the report found.

“For example, it is impossible to determine how many reservists were deployed for each year of the mission; how much fuel was consumed; or the level of expenditure on equipment reset and betterment, for all Afghanistan related operations.”

Page backed away from publicly criticizing the various government departments after the report’s release, saying he wanted to build bridges with the bureaucracy.

His new oversight office was created this past spring, and is a largely unknown entity in Ottawa, he said, but is determined to bring better “fiscal transparency” to the federal government.

“It’s important for me to be diplomatic,” Page said, while also making clear he’s not worried about being kicked out of a job if he ruffles a few feathers.

“Do I look afraid? I promise you I’m not afraid.”

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Published in: on October 11, 2008 at 2:29 am  Comments Off on Stephen Harper hid the actual cost of the War  
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