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Canadian peacekeepers would be ‘welcome’ in Congo, C.A.R.

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.

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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 Progressive 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.

“I understand the value of what Canada is doing. I don’t diminish (it), but I wish we were willing to show our presence on the ground, protecting our troops as fully as humanly possible.”

Lewis said it might make more sense to deploy troops to Mali, because sending another mission to Congo, or Central African Republic, might be spreading resources too thin. But both countries have “significant peacekeeping operations and Canada would be tremendously valued.”

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan is to deliver a statement to the Security Council on Wednesday on the subject of “Collective Action to Improve UN Peacekeeping.”

Kyle Degraw, a Canadian with Save The Children who recently returned from Congo, said Tuesday the country is the scene of one of the world’s most overlooked crises with 4.5 million people forced to flee their homes because of armed violence.

“A more stable security situation allows us to access more people, and given the nature of our work we need safe access into areas that we won’t be able to reach,” he said.

One of the Canada’s main strengths is its ability to provide troops that can operate in French-speaking countries, so “Mali, CAR and DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo) are about it,” said peacekeeping expert Walter Dorn of the Canadian Forces College in Toronto

“Just some helicopters is definitely not enough. To be re-engaging in peacekeeping, I’m expecting to see boots on the ground as well as blades in the air. We need to have a substantive army contribution in peacekeeping.”

Lewis said the Trudeau government committed 600 troops to UN operations, which means it has room to deploy another 350.

Gen. Jonathan Vance, the chief of the defence staff, told The Canadian Press in a recent interview that Canada is interested in doing more training.

“We want to contribute to the improvement of tactical level performance,” said Vance. “We’re still working on where in the UN we would contribute to that.”

TORONTO STAR