More than a dozen advocacy groups urged the first U.S. special representative to Africa's war-torn Great Lakes region on Wednesday to push for democracy and good governance in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The United States named Russ Feingold on Tuesday in an effort to promote peace in a region long afflicted by violence, not least in eastern Congo, where mineral wealth and ethnic strife have drawn in neighboring states.
"We are convinced that this is a critical moment of opportunity for U.S. policy towards the Great Lakes region," said an open letter from groups including the Enough Project, the International Crisis Group and the Rift Valley Institute.
As a former U.S. senator, Feingold headed the sub-committee on African affairs. The letter said that Congolese President Joseph Kabila's government lacked the commitment to improve governance and tackle corruption.
"The U.S. and other donors (must) help create political space for democratic forces that can ... generate anti-corruption, reformist 'will'," it said.
Kabila won Congo's first post-conflict elections in 2006, which followed successive devastating wars up to 2003 in which millions died. He was re-elected in 2011 but the polls were criticized by foreign observers for poor planning and widespread fraud.
Regional leaders signed a U.N.-mediated accord in February intended to end two decades of conflict in eastern Congo and pave the way for the creation of a U.N. intervention force to combat armed groups, which is currently deploying.
However, there has been little progress in talks between Congo's government and the M23 rebel group to end a year-old insurgency in the east, rich in copper, cobalt, rubber, timber, gold, diamonds and uranium. Neighboring Rwanda and Uganda - which have repeatedly backed rebel groups in Congo - deny accusations made by U.N. experts that they have supported the latest uprising.
The United Nations has estimated that the conflict has driven more than 3 million Congolese from their homes.
*Reporting June 19, 2013 by Jonny Hogg in Kinshasa and Lesley Wroughton in Washington; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Kevin Liffey.