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U.S. Will Offer Logistics Support to Congo Mission

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

PRETORIA, Republic of South Africa, Feb. 18, 2000 – Once there is a peace agreement in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the United States is willing to provide logistics support for a U.N. peace mission, but it has no plans to contribute ground forces.

"We are stretched very thin at this particular time," Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said at a Feb. 16 joint press conference with host South African leaders. The secretary was referring to U.S. troops deployed to Bosnia, Kosovo, the Persian Gulf, East Timor, and other U.S. troop commitments in Europe and Asia.

Cohen said he expects the U.N. Security Council within a week will authorize deployment of a 500-strong cease-fire observer group and 5,000 support troops to the republic, formerly known as Zaire. The U.N.-led Lusaka peace process calls for a three-phase mission.

Phase 1 calls for the United States to contribute $40 million, one-quarter of the cost of the first six months of the mission. Phase 2 involves deploying the 500 observers and 5,000 international troops. Phase 3 involves deploying a 15,000-strong peacekeeping force.

Once there is a "genuine peace agreement," Cohen said, the United States would provide support in the form of logistics, communications, intelligence and other support activities similar to those provided to the U.N. peacekeeping operation in East Timor.

Visiting South Africa to build military cooperation, Cohen met with South African President Thabo Mbeki, Defense Minister Patrick Lekota and former President Nelson Mandela. Cohen said his meetings centered on peacekeeping training, future joint combined exchange training exercises and other common concerns. He also discussed with the South African leaders the goal of transforming its military into a smaller, more modern force.

"The United States has been in the process of a similar transformation for some time," Cohen told reporters. "A U.S. team will be in South Africa next week to discuss some of the lessons that we learned and ways that we might be able to help South Africa make this very difficult transition."

The secretary announced at the press conference that the United States would send water purification equipment and teams to eastern South Africa to provide safe drinking water to victims of recent disastrous floods. He also offered to send a team of experts in health education and training to help South African defense forces address the problem of AIDS.

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