Raphael Tuju (left), Kenyan foreign minister and incoming chair of the regional inter-ministerial committee at the conference on Monday
NAIROBI, 11 Dec 2006 (IRIN) - An international conference aimed at enhancing peace, security and development in Africa's Great Lakes Region is under way in Nairobi, with delegates expressing optimism that the elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo heralded an era of stability in the volatile region.
"Peace and security in the Democratic Republic of Congo is fundamental for the stability in the entire region," Asha-Rose Migiro, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Tanzania, said at the opening session of the regional inter-ministerial conference on Monday. A summit of heads of state and ministers of the Great Lakes countries takes place on Thursday and Friday.
The Great Lakes region has been ravaged by bloody conflicts in the recent past. Burundi has been battered by civil war since 1993 and Rwanda by genocide in 1994. Civil war has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives in the DRC.
Hopes for a more stable period have been raised by elections in Burundi in August 2005 and in the DRC, where a peace process culminated in elections in June and October. Presidential poll winner Joseph Kabila was inaugurated on 6 December.
Success in Burundi and the DRC was, however, being marred by new conflicts in Sudan's western region of Darfur, Chad and the Central African Republic, according to Said Djinnit, Commissioner for Peace and Security of the African Union.
"We cannot but express deep concern at the continued conflict and tensions in Darfur and at the borders between Sudan, Chad and Central African Republic," he said, calling for action on what he described as a "very disturbing situation".
The inter-ministerial conference that opened on Monday will fine-tune a draft agreement on security, stability and development, which will be signed by the heads of state at the end of the summit on Friday. The pact, comprising several legally binding protocols as well as programmes of action, will shape how countries in the region relate in terms of peace and security; democracy and governance; economic development and regional integration; and humanitarian and social issues.
"Our joy will be complete when the pact is implemented," said Ibrahima Fall, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for the Great Lakes Region.
Countries around the Great Lakes include Burundi, DRC and Rwanda, but neighbouring states that have often been affected by conflicts in those countries are frequently incorporated in that group. To accommodate diverse regional interests, 18 countries have been included. The 11 core countries are Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, DRC, Republic of Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia; and the seven 'co-opted' countries are Botswana, Egypt, Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe.
GREAT LAKES: After four-year process, region is closer to peace