Home | News    Wednesday 17 November 2004

FMs in Great Lakes region focus on disarmament program

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By Cheng Zhiliang, Yi Gaochao

DAR ES SALAAM, Nov 16, 2004 (Xinhua) — A proposed regional disarmament, demobilization, repatriation, reintegration and resettlement (DDRRR) program triggered intensive and prolonged debate when foreign ministers from Africa’s Great Lakes region gathered here on Tuesday in pursuit for regional peace, unity and prosperity.

Delegates to the pre-summit meeting of the first International Conference on the Great Lakes Region spent more than an hour in discussing the DDRRR program in the draft Dar es Salaam declaration, a declaration of peace.

Different countries had diverse understanding about the program,and everyone was very prudent and tough on this issue. Some countries insisted the program be implemented only at national level, while others called for coordination at regional level.

There had been mistrust among some countries, said Tanzanian Foreign Minister Jakaya Kikwete, who also chaired the discussion of the draft declaration, adding "such as between Tanzania and Burundi, between the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo) and Rwanda, and between the DRC and Uganda."

Repatriation involves the country that ex-combatants live in and resettlement may possible need a third country willing to accept the ex-combatants, according to Aldo Ajello, special representative of the Council of the European Union to the Great Lakes region.

Political mistrust is easy to understand when double accusationof other governments supporting domestic rebels remains common. Rwanda had been unsatisfied with neighboring DRC in that the latter harbors Hutu extremists named Interhamwe that fled Rwanda after playing a central role in the 1994 genocide, while the DRC said renegade soldiers seized the eastern town of Bukavu after gaining support of the Kigali government in early June.

However, the restoration of peace is speeding up. The DRC and Rwanda recently discussed the program of demobilization and repatriation of Rwandan rebels and militia in the DRC through the coordination of the African Union and MONUC, the UN mission in theDRC.

Some 6,000 Rwandan ex-combatants have been disarmed and repatriated, according to MONUC.

DRC Foreign Minister Ramazani Baya called for a regional DDRRR program at the pre-summit meeting, "The result of national DDRRR programs depends on regional coordination with neighboring countries," he told Xinhua during the break of the meeting.

The DRC witnessed a war with participation of six neighboring countries between 1998 and 2003, which killed 2.5 million people and displaced another 3 million. The Congolese war is labeled as "Africa’s first world war."

By the last decade alone close to 4 million have been killed inwars and conflicts in the Great Lakes region. At present, there are still 3 million refugees within the region, according to Tanzanian foreign minister. The region is rich in resources, but many of the countries within the region are among the world’s poorest 48 nations.

The foreign ministers from Angola, Burundi, the Central AfricanRepublic, the Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia attended Tuesday’s meeting.

The declaration, aimed at formulating a vision for the Great Lakes region which has been harassed by civil wars, famine, the issue of refugees and underdevelopment, is expected to be rather adeclaration of peace.

"This is what the region lacks most: peace," said Ibrahima Fall,special representative of the United Nations secretary general forthe Great Lakes region. "Peace is another name for development."

Once signed by the heads of state from the 11 above-mentioned countries, the declaration itself can well be described as an achievement, in that these countries combined account for the longest running civil wars, the largest number of refugees and internally-displaced persons, and the least development area in the world.

Tanzanian Foreign Minister Jakaya Kikwete said the upcoming summit of the Great Lakes region would be remembered as the start of a transformation of the region into one of sustainable peace, security, democracy and development.

The foreign ministers were presented on Tuesday with a draft declaration prepared by three preparatory meetings held earlier this year in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda, respectively.

The summit of the Great Lakes region is slated for Friday and Saturday in Dar es Salaam. The name of the city means "haven of peace" in Kiswahili.

The 11 countries will be participating as the core members of the Great Lakes region while Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibiaand Zimbabwe will attend as co-opted countries.

Other countries to attend as observers are Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Gabon, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Luxembourg,the Netherlands, Nigeria, Norway, Portugal, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States.

The United Nations and the African Union will be the co-sponsors and facilitators of the summit that also attracts such continental and regional institutions as the European Union, the East African Community, and the Southern African Development Community.

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The Sudan Tribune editorial team.

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