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Region yet to discuss rebel menace

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KAMPALA, 28 Oct 2005 (IRIN) - A meeting of representatives of the governments of Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda and Uganda on ways of handling foreign armed groups based in northeastern DRC did not take place on Thursday in Uganda as had been announced earlier, a Ugandan government official said.

The permanent secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Julius Onen, told IRIN on Friday that the announcement of the meeting "was not properly made and this gave an erroneous impression that we are going to host a meeting".

However, Onen said a delegation of the UN Security Council was scheduled to tour the region in early November.

"They will be carrying out an on the spot assessment of the security situation in the region and they will visit countries making up the Great Lakes region," he said.

At a meeting on 21 October in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, foreign ministers and security officials of the four countries called for international sanctions to be imposed against the armed groups based in northeastern and eastern Congo.

The officials agreed to seek punitive measures from other states, including financial restrictions and visa bans against members of nine armed groups operating in eastern Congo.

In a joint communiqué issued at the end of their two-day regional security meeting, the officials said that they might ask the international community to label the armed groups "terrorist organisations".

However, the officials said the neighbours that formed the Tripartite Plus One Commission, a grouping meant to spur security cooperation and coordination among its often feuding and warring members, would pursue "additional joint measures" to rid eastern Congo of the rebels.

These measures include "pursuing legal prosecution, extradition and trial of leaders of negative forces, visa and travel bans (and) fundraising and financial restrictions", their statement said.

Other measures could include banning of political activities by the groups and "consideration of designation of negative forces as terrorist groups".

Several rebel groups - referred to as "negative forces" - have taken advantage of insecurity and lawlessness in northeastern and eastern Congo to set up camp. These groups include the Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army and the Rwandan Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda. Several Congolese militias as are also operating there, officials said.

In August, the Congolese government gave the groups until 30 September to disarm voluntarily; a deadline most failed to honour.

In their communiqué, the officials said the four nations had "agreed to disarmament, using all necessary means, of all armed groups and militias in eastern DRC".

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni told reporters on Thursday that the region was "jointly going to write to the Security Council to change the mandate of MONUC [UN Mission in the DRC] so that it could be able to forcefully disarm these negative forces".

"We are working on the solution to clear eastern Congo of these armed groups," he said.


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