Kai Eide, a veteran Norwegian diplomat and former UN Special Envoy, was due to arrive in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Thursday, to carry on negotiations over the imprisonment of young Norwegian Joshua French. The Norwegian government decided to send one its most experienced and respected envoys after French, already sentenced to death in Congo, was also accused of murdering his Norwegian cellmate.
Eide, with experience from Afghanistan and the Middle East among other trouble spots around the world, will relieve Andreas Gaarder as the Norwegian foreign ministry’s special representative in Congo. Eide is expected to follow up on the initiative Prime Minister Erna Solberg took when she contacted the president of the Democrative Republic of Congo, Joseph Kabila, over the matter during a meeting in South Africa earlier this week.
Eide also needs to establish dialog with both local and military authorities in Congo, a task that Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reports as being very demanding. Repeated appeals by the Norwegian government on behalf of French have gone unanswered, while contradictions and inconsistent legal claims have been rampant since French and his late cellmate, Tjostolv Moland, were first arrested in Congo in 2009.
In August, Moland was found dead in the prison cell he shared with French, and on Monday, French was indicted for allegedly murdering Moland. French and Moland already had been convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of their driver in May 2009, a charge they both strenuously denied. They have been held in Congolese jails under difficult conditions ever since, and ultimately opted against appealing their latest sentences in the hopes of being extradited to Norway to service their prison terms. That’s what the Norwegian government has been trying to arrange for the past four years.
Instead, French’s situation worsened dramatically with Monday’s indictment, which contradicted an earlier ruling that Moland’s death was a suicide. French has firmly denied murdering his friend Moland and finds the charge shocking, as do the Norwegian authorities.
Now they’ve dispatched one of their foremost diplomats to sort out the chaotic legal situation in Congo, and try to secure French’s transfer to a Norwegian prison. French’s mother Kari Hilde French, who met with both Eide and Foreign Minister Børge Brende on Wednesday, also plans to travel back to Congo next week.
Both she and her son have expressed gratitude for the assistance of the Norwegian government, which to date has involved the efforts of three foreign ministers and two prime ministers. French’s attorney Hans Marius Graasvold called Eide “the best choice we could have received” as a new envoy to try to settle the conflict between Norway and Congo.