Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Where Next for Canadian Peacekeepers: Congo? Central African Republic?

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Where Next for Canadian Peacekeepers: Congo? Central African Republic?

Article excerpt

Where next for Cdn peacekeepers: Congo? CAR?

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OTTAWA - Congolese Archbishop Marcel Utembi couldn't help but notice where Canada just decided to send its small contingent of peacekeepers.

The decision to deploy 250 personnel and six helicopters to the west African country of Mali came just days before Utembi and a delegation of Congolese clerics arrived at Global Affairs headquarters in Ottawa to talk about potential new foreign aid investments.

"We're not jealous. But we think Canada has the capacity to intervene also in other countries, such as Congo," said Utembi, who has been a leading figure in fighting for democratic freedoms in his conflict-riven country as the president of the Episcopal Conference of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

On Tuesday, the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to extend the mandate of its 17,000 strong peacekeeping mission in the Congo, where a pivotal election is scheduled for the end of the year.

Some observers say that if Canada wants to win a temporary two-year seat on the Security Council in 2021, it will have to send more peacekeepers to Africa -- actual soldiers, or boots on the ground. And Congo, along with its troubled neighbour, Central African Republic, is at the top of the list.

Utembi said Canadian troops would be welcome to help train his country's military, which he said needs to do a better job protecting civilians, and whose leadership is linked to people who exploit Congo's lucrative natural resources. It's a job the Americans, French and Belgians are currently doing in Congo.

"We respect the strategy of each country. Mali expressed its needs to the Canadian government, and maybe the Congo did not do it," says Utembi.

"We have to train the Congolese army to respect human rights, to protect people, to protect civilians."

Stephen Lewis, who served as Canada's UN ambassador for the Conservative government under Brian Mulroney, said Canada's contribution to Mali is important, but the country needs to deploy more peacekeepers -- including ground troops -- if it wants to win the Security Council election.

"All of this is related to the Security Council," said Lewis, who remains active in UN circles as the co-director of AIDS-Free World, an international advocacy organization. …

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