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EU calls for revival of regional economic bloc

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AMSTERDAM, 6 Dec 2005 (IRIN) - The European Union (EU) commissioner for development and humanitarian aid, Louis Michel, has called for the revival of the Economic Community of the Great Lakes Countries of Africa(the CommunautÚ Economique des Pays des Grands Lacs, or CEPGL), that collapsed in 1998 as a result of war in the region.

Michel's made his appeal on Monday while meeting with Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza who was on a four-day visit to Belgium.

"The Commissioner is encouraging the revival of the CEPGL because political conditions are ripe after transitions successfully completed in Burundi and Rwanda and the hopes raised by massive voter registration in the DRC," Amadeu Altafaj, the EU spokesman, told IRIN on Tuesday.

Burundi completed its political transition to a democratic state in September with the election of Nkurunziza as the nation's president. Before that, he was the leader of a former rebel movement, the Conseil national pour la defense de la democratie-Force pour la defense de la democratie.

Neighbouring Rwanda completed its own democratic transitional process in 2003, nine years after the genocide in which some 937,000 Tutsi and politically moderate Hutu were killed.

"The DRC remains the only fragile component, but hopes are high," Altafaj said.

To boost this regional integration body, the EU has already approved the reconstruction of a 130-km stretch of Route Nationale 12, a highway running from the northwestern town of Gitega to Muyinga in the middle of the country. The EU is also expected to provide money in early 2006 for the rehabilitation of Route Nationale 13, Altafaj said. The rebuilding of these highways, he added, was part of the EU's infrastructure aid segment of its Strategy for Africa adopted in October and due to be approved by EU heads of state in mid-December.

Nkurunziza's visit to Brussels, his first to Europe since taking office, is seen as an effort to meet development partners, foremost of which are the EU and the former colonial power, Belgium. Altafaj said the EU's development budget for Burundi for the 2003-2007 period was 227 million euro (US $266 million).

"Shortly before President Nkurunziza's visit, the EU added 10 million euro to the initial development budget for Burundi," Altafaj said.

He said Nkurunziza had sent all the positive signals that the donors were expecting of him, including the holding of free and fair elections; his woman-friendly government; and his policy priorities of education and reconciliation.


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