KIGALI, 18 Feb 2005 (IRIN) - Eleven foreign ministers of countries in Africa's Great Lakes region met on Thursday in Kigali, Rwanda, to map out strategies of implementing a regional pact on security, stability and development signed in November 2004 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
The ministers, meeting under an initiative of the UN and the African Union (AU), reviewed ? among other things - efforts to improve peace and security in the region, including proliferation and circulation of small arms and light weapons, border security, disarmament of combatants and defence and security cooperation among countries in the region.
According to the office of Ibrahima Fall, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General to the Great Lakes, the ministers' meeting is the first in a series of follow-up conferences of the regional Inter-Ministerial Committee, ahead of a second regional summit, due to be held in Kenya later this year.
Fall's office said the Inter-Ministerial Committee was set up during the first regional summit in Dar es Salaam in November 2004, and was charged with "preparing selected, concrete, achievable and measurable draft protocols and programmes of action together with specific short, medium and long term objectives".
Several countries in the Great Lakes region - including Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Rwanda - have a history of conflict. Burundi is emerging from more than a decade of civil war and a transitional government was installed in the DRC in June 2003.
Rwanda, along with Uganda and Burundi, have invaded Congo twice, sparking a war that sucked in six African nations and killed an estimated 3.3 million people, most dying from hunger and disease.
Addressing the Kigali meeting, Rwandan President Paul Kagame called for the acceleration of disarmament of Rwandan Hutu rebels operating from eastern DRC. He said such groups were the root cause of the wars in the Great Lakes.
He called upon other leaders of Africa's volatile Great Lakes region to support efforts of forcefully disarming the Hutu rebels who fled Rwanda after the 1994 genocide in which up to 937,000 people died, according to official estimates.
"Our challenge has been how to wipe out the ideology of genocide and how to deal with the perpetrators of the genocide," Kagame said. "Failure to deal with this issue has led to widespread insecurity and, in the past, has even led to wars."
At the end of their two-day meeting, the ministers are expected to adopt protocols and programmes of action on the four themes of the international conference on the Great Lakes - peace and security; democracy and good governance; economic development and regional integration; and, humanitarian and social issues.
Commending a recent decision by the AU to consider sending troops into eastern DRC to disarm the Hutu rebels, Kagame said the challenge for the Great Lakes was how to support the initiative.
"The manner in which we cooperate to root out the problem will reflect our determination and capacity to deal with other pressing issues in this region and the continent as a whole," Kagame said.
He added: "It will also contribute to the return of confidence in the region and allow us to live and work together as good neighbours and cooperate more effectively in matters of defence, security and other matters of great importance."
The foreign ministers of the DRC, Rwanda and Uganda met in Washington D.C. recently and pledged to resolve their differences and restore stability in the region.
"I am optimistic that relations between our country and Rwanda will continue improving," Mbusa Nyamwisi, Congolese minister for regional cooperation, told reporters on Thursday in Kigali.
"We have resolved that as long as a problem exists, we must immediately find a solution," he said.