Cablegate: Congolese Press and Civil Society React Positively to U.S.

DE RUEHKI #0256/01 0551625
O R 241624Z FEB 10



E.O. 12958: N/A


1. Summary: Following an initial series of logistical challenges,
U.S. and Congolese personnel successfully assembled Government of
Democratic Republic of Congo (GDRC) officials, members of civil
society and press in Kisangani and Kinshasa for an inaugural
ceremony on February 17 commemorating the beginning of the general
training of a Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC) Light Infantry
Battalion. After the ceremony, Ambassador Garvelink and members of
the visiting U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) responded to questions
and concerns from leaders of Kisangani civil society and Congolese
press over the nature of the training and suspicions of U.S.
motives in the region, and Ambassador Garvelink continued outreach
with key international and local press outlets in Kinshasa. Both
events acted as a starting point to inform key audiences about the
Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) training. A concerted U.S.
interagency effort is needed to continue to educate audiences and
garner support for the training and broader U.S. commitment to
Security Sector Reform. End summary.

Despite challenges, Kisangani ceremony takes place
--------------------------------------------- ----------------------

2. The Kisangani ceremony to inaugurate training of soldiers of a
Light Infantry Battalion (LIB)took place on February 17 amid
tremendous logistical challenges. Following torrential rains two
nights before the event that destroyed much of the camp
infrastructure and flooded the ceremonial grounds, U.S. and FARDC
personnel, as well as local contractors, worked tirelessly for 48
hours to rehabilitate much of the damaged infrastructure. Thanks to
these efforts, the event was able to take place on the scheduled
date of February 17.

3. Following initial ceremonial pageantry, leading GDRC and U.S.
officials made remarks in front of foreign missions, international
organizations, civil society leaders and journalists. Brigadier
General Jean-Claude Kifwa, commander of the FARDC ninth region,
asserted the training of the LIB was a sign of progress in ongoing
efforts to reform the FARDC. He also committed the battalion to
protect the territorial borders of the DRC and the Congolese
people. Ambassador Garvelink, in his remarks, emphasized the
commitment of the U.S. and FARDC "to develop a professional force
that respects civilian authority and that provides security to all
citizens of this country." Following these remarks, the battalion
conducted a "pass-in-review" march around the ceremonial grounds
for invited guests and concluded with national anthems of both

Ambassador Garvelink and U.S. officials respond to concerns
--------------------------------------------- ----------------------

4. As an opportunity to explain the training objectives and
highlight the U.S.-DRC partnership, senior U.S. and GDRC officials
held a press roundtable following the ceremony. While
participants, who included leading civil society figures and local
and regional press, agreed the training was a positive development,
they indicated a clear suspicion of the U.S. motivations for
engaging this is training. Speculation of U.S. objectives ranged
from establishing a larger AFRICOM presence in the DRC to using
Kisangani as a forward operating base to confront regional threats,
such as the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and Islamic terrorist
threats in Sudan. Ambassador Garvelink, Ambassador Holmes, and
Major General Sherlock all refuted these notions, and pointed out
the U.S. had no intention to install a base in the DRC or the
continent. Major General Sherlock stated that U.S. efforts were
"designed to grow capacity within the FARDC to grow a professional
battalion that is responsible to a civilian government and to the
people of the [DRC]. Our efforts are not about Africa Command.
Our efforts are in support of our partners in the [DRC]."

5. Responding to concerns that U.S. motivations are linked to an
effort to support any subversive Rwandan efforts to destabilize the
DRC, Ambassador Garvelink noted the U.S. sought to maintain
positive relations with both countries, and there were no
intentions to destabilize the DRC. Rather, the "interest of the
U.S. in the Congo is to see a democratic, representative government
that takes care of its people and is at peace with its neighbors."
The Ambassador also noted that the U.S. hoped the battalion would
act as a platform "from which additional training of Congolese
troops could be done by very well training Congolese troops." The
ultimate hope, as indicated by the Ambassador, was that the

KINSHASA 00000256 002 OF 003

training would continue to expand under the direction and
leadership of the Congolese military.

6. Local Kisangani community radio stations aired the Ambassador's
and General Sherlock's comments, and local newspapers reported
positively on the event, providing key images of the ceremony and
press event and citing the delegation's statements that AFRICOM
would not establish a permanent military presence in the DRC. Key
Kinshasa dailies that were present at the event cited quotes from
U.S. officials that highlighted the positive objectives of the U.S.
training. Pro-government L'Avenir reported extensively on the
human rights component of the training and the potential positive
impact in reducing gender and sexual-based violence (SGBV) in
conflict zones (a point emphasized in Ambassador Garvelink's
remarks and an interagency-cleared fact sheet that was distributed
to roundtable participants). Independent Le Potential also noted
the training's expected result to contribute to local and regional
peace, and underscored the U.S. commitment to enhance the capacity
of the FARDC, not to establish a permanent military presence in the

Continued outreach in Kinshasa

7. Embassy Kinshasa also hosted a press conference on February 22
for local and international press agencies based in Kinshasa to
amplify the messages beyond Kisangani and Kinshasa. Ambassador
Garvelink highlighted the importance of the training in the broader
context of U.S. commitments to SSR and political and economic
development of the DRC. Both he and Colonel Crowder, Office of
Security Cooperation (OSC) chief, addressed questions on the
specific modalities of the training, particularly in terms of
funding and training activities. Both also highlighted the
training elements that focused on combating Sexual and Gender Based
Violence (SGBV) and indications of the U.S. commitment to ensuring
the LIB did not commit acts of SGBV against communities.
Ambassador Garvelink emphasized that while the GDRC would be
responsible for the payment of the battalion, the United States and
other international partners would support efforts to reinforce the
country's public finance and payment systems. Following the event,
local media outlets received edited footage (taken by an Embassy
grantee) of the Kisangani ceremony from the Embassy's Public
Affairs Section (PAS) to incorporate into their broadcasts and
reports of the event.

8. Local press and international media outlets reported positively
on the Kinshasa press conference and side interviews with
Ambassador Garvelink and Colonel Crowder. The independent
newspaper Le Potentiel highlighted the training's objective to help
develop a professional army that respects civilian authority and
protects the Congolese people, and noted in its front page
headline: "Reforming the FARDC, the U.S. Picks up the Pace."
Positive newspaper articles also appeared in Le Phare, Forum Des
As, and L'Avenir. Several pro-government and independent
television networks all ran news stories on the press conference,
using footage provided by the PAS. Discussing United States' SSR
objectives, several media outlets emphasized the Ambassador's point
that reform of the Congolese military would lead to progress on
good governance, economic development, and stable civil
institutions. "Obama Wants a Professional Army in the DRC," was
the sub-headline of the article in the moderately pro-opposition Le
Phare, noting that "The United States is ready to help the DR Congo
build an army that is strong and professional," and will play a key
role in providing security in the Great Lakes region and protecting
the territorial integrity of its own country. International press,
including VOA, Bloomberg, and Reuters, also reported key messages
from the Ambassador's and Colonel Crowder's remarks, including the
reference to human rights training as being a key component to the
objectives of the initiative.

9. Comment: Embassy Kinshasa's efforts to amplify our public
message on the LIB training and explain to key opinion-makers the
intentions of U.S. activities appeared to resonate quite
positively. However, as public attitudes in the DRC are fluid, and
skepticism of the LIB training (which is engrained in deep,
historically-based suspicions of U.S. objectives in the region)
will likely continue, regular and constant engagement with public
audiences in Kisangani, Kinshasa, and elsewhere will be necessary
to build on these initial efforts. In the coming weeks, Embassy

KINSHASA 00000256 003 OF 003

Kinshasa will discuss opportunities with the Department and AFRICOM
to program activities and determine funding opportunities to
support these activities. Funding will be critical to supporting
and sustaining any long-term initiatives and respond to concerns
and counter misinformation regarding the LIB training. End



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