Helping Congo - and Not

The reported assassination of Congo strongman Laurent Kabila on Tuesday ends just one chapter of a war that has engulfed much of Central Africa since 1994 (see story on page 1).

The incoming Bush administration and the United Nations would be wise to intervene only on the margins of a conflict that involves seven nations, all of them vying for either mineral wealth, territory, or regional power.

Knowing when to help Africa - and not help it - has become the new wisdom in the West and at the UN. Recent wars in Sierra Leone and between Ethiopia and Eritrea taught that lesson. So did Kabila's effective blocking of UN peace efforts in Congo, including a plan for 5,500 peacekeepers.

Motives for the war run deep. The first chapter began with the 1994 attempted genocide of Tutsis in neighboring Rwanda. That conflict spilled over to Congo (then called Zaire), helping erstwhile rebel Kabila to oust a longtime dictator. But it also brought in other nations' armies, seeking spoils in a mineral-rich land.

Attempted mediation by outsiders has been used only for local advantage, especially by Kabila, who has faced military setbacks. Instead, the UN and European powers should devote the bulk of their efforts to aiding the thousands of refugees and malnourished who are the war's pawns.

Except for stopping genocide in Africa, the West should be wary of sending in troops to end conflicts.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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