US envoy to Africa`s Great Lakes stepping down
The US special envoy to Africa`s Great Lakes region, Russ Feingold, is stepping down next month amid speculation the former senator may seek to regain his seat in the Senate.
Washington: The US special envoy to Africa`s Great Lakes region, Russ Feingold, is stepping down next month amid speculation the former senator may seek to regain his seat in the Senate.
Feingold, who is also special envoy to the Democratic Republic of Congo, is widely credited with having helped broker a peace deal in late 2013 with M23 rebels in the DR Congo ending hostilities that dated back to 1994.
He was appointed to his post in 2013 and State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said he had "played a very important role" in the region.
Apart from the M23 deal, the former Wisconsin senator had also "helped drive the international community`s renewed focus and commitment to ending the threat of the FDLR" rebels -- an ethnic Hutu militia based in eastern Congo.
Congo`s military in January announced an offensive against the estimated 1,500-2,000 Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) rebels, who have been at the heart of the long-running conflict in Africa`s Great Lakes region.
But UN officials say there has since been no action on the ground, and the UN has now pulled out of what had been planned as a joint offensive.
Kinshasa government spokesman Lambert Mende said he had no comment on Feingold`s departure.
"If he is leaving for personal reasons, that`s his business and nothing to do with us," Mende told AFP.
Plans for the offensive against the rebels had hit an impasse when President Joseph Kabila rejected UN demands that two leading Congolese generals accused of human rights violations be replaced.
Kinshasa has been fighting dozens of rebel and splinter groups during decades of conflict in eastern Congo, much of it fueled by the lucrative trade in minerals.
Feingold had also been vocal in calling on Kabila not to amend the country`s constitution to extend his term in office -- statements which Mende had denounced as "interference" in the DR Congo`s affairs.
Feingold is due to give his final speech as special envoy on Monday to the United States Institute of Peace just days after returning from the DR Congo, where he had tried to press Kinshasa to deliver on its commitment to take action against rebels in the east.
Media speculation has mounted that he may be preparing for a 2016 run to recapture his Wisconsin seat, which he lost in 2010 to Republican businessman Ron Johnson. He was first elected to the Senate in 1992.
A Democrat, Feingold has long been seen as a champion of human rights in Africa and a defender of civil liberties back home in the US.
Psaki said initially US top diplomat John Kerry had asked Feingold to serve for just a year as special envoy.
"Obviously, we`re far past that point," Psaki said, adding "he will be missed."
She insisted the US would "continue to devote sustained high-level attention to the Great Lakes region" and that a new special envoy would be named.