KIGALI, Rwanda, April 23, 2009 - General William E. "Kip" Ward, commander of U.S. Africa Command, reaffirmed the command's commitment to partnering with the Rwandan Defense Force (RDF) to help promote stability and security in the region.

"We indeed are committed partners, committed to this relationship with the RDF as it works with the African Union and United Nations supporting peacekeeping operations and regional stability operations," Ward said during a press conference in Kigali, Rwanda, April 22, 2009.

Ward spoke to about a dozen local and foreign reporters at the Kigali International Airport before departing Rwanda after a two-day visit to the country.

While in Rwanda, Ward met with RDF commanders who recently returned from a peacekeeping deployment in Darfur.

"I was able to listen to those commanders and listen to their perspectives on that situation, so as we continue to work with Rwanda and their peacekeepers, our approach can be reflective of things that they have seen, helping us to do our part more effectively," Ward told reporters.

Responding to a question on how the United States supports peacekeeping operations in Darfur, Ward emphasized that the U.S. military "is not in the business of being the sole provider nor the sole voice in how those matters are carried out."

He explained how the U.S. government first determines policy regarding U.S. involvement in foreign operations. "If it is determined that there are military activities that we, in fact, can carry out, that's where U.S. Africa Command gets involved," Ward said.

The RDF's support to African peacekeeping operations has been called a model program within Africa, according to Africa Command officials.

U.S. Ambassador to Rwanda Stuart Symington IV said Rwanda is one of the largest troop contributing nations to UN peacekeeping operations. "That is something to be proud of. Something to be even more proud of is what people say about the quality of Rwandan peacekeeping troops," Symington said.

Since 2007, Rwanda has participated heavily in the U.S. Department of State-led Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance program, or ACOTA, which trains African militaries to participate in UN-led peacekeeping operations. The U.S. military provides mentors to the program.

RDF spokesman Major Jill Rutaremara said the RDF has organized seminars on their lessons learned and best practices for peacekeeping operations. The last one attracted 26 African countries.

"Not only have we done that, we have also had our friends from the Tanzanian Peoples Defense Force who wanted to deploy to Darfur," Rutaremara said. "They visited Rwanda to learn from our experience and they asked us to send our officers to Tanzania to help them prepare a battalion that they want to deploy to Darfur."

Rwanda now trains its own service members in peacekeeping operations, and has offered to provide peacekeeping training to other African nations who participate in ACOTA.

Ward said the U.S. military's relationship with the RDF is "a mutually rewarding relationship in pursuit of a common interest, and that common interest is security (and) stability for peoples of a nation, of a region. ... It indeed has global implications and effects."

In January 2009, the RDF and the military of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) -- two forces historically at odds -- joined forces to rout out a militia group in eastern Congo's Kivu region, where Rwanda shares a border. The militia, called the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), and led by rebels involved in the 1994 Rwanda genocide, has committed gross human rights violations and has contributed to instability in the region.

The mission lasted about a month and ended with the arrest of the FDLR's leader, who had fled into Rwanda.

Ward highlighted this cooperation as a "positive development" that underscored commitment to peace in the Great Lakes region.

"It signaled the cooperation between governments, nations of a region, to address a (common) problem," Ward said at the press conference.

Ward left Kigali for Mombasa, where he attended the Land Forces Symposium conference April 22-23, co-hosted by the U.S. Army and the Kenyan Army. He met with senior military delegates from nations in Africa, the Middle East and Southwest Asia."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16