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Leaders meet over peace, development and humanitarian crises

11:00 PM

Kabila at Great Lakes summit in Nairobi Kenya NAIROBI, 14 December (IRIN) - The humanitarian crises precipitated by numerous civil wars in Africa's Great Lakes region can best be mitigated by consolidating peace and political stability to promote development, leaders at a summit in Nairobi said on Thursday.

"We need to consolidate the delicate equation of peace and security, and begin to direct our energies towards reconstruction and development," Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki, the incoming Chairman of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, said.

Regional leaders and representatives of the United Nations, the European Commission and various organizations, meeting in the Kenyan capital, said Great Lakes countries had been battered by conflicts for decades. Civil wars in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Sudan and northern Uganda, for example, had caused untold suffering to civilian populations.

However, hopes for a more stable period have been raised by elections in Burundi in August 2005 and in the DRC. Presidential poll winner Joseph Kabila, who was inaugurated on 6 December, attended the summit.

In Sudan, a peace agreement in early 2005 ended the conflict between the government and a rebel movement in the south, while peace talks are under way between Ugandan authorities and the rebel Lord's Resistance Army that was active in the north.

The summit will culminate in the signing of a pact on stability, security and development on Friday by the leaders.

The agreement, comprising legally binding protocols and programmes, will form the basis for the consolidation of peace and security, democracy and governance, economic development and regional integration, and humanitarian and social issues.

Five-year programmes of action have been worked out since the first international conference on the Great Lakes region in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in November 2004.

The programmes include a US$225 million package for security and good governance, social and humanitarian issues and economic integration.

"The signing of the Peace Pact that is expected to crown this summit will herald a new beginning for the Great Lakes Region and indeed for the African continent in translating aspirations into actual deeds," said Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, who handed over the chairmanship of the conference to Kibaki.

"I believe it is very possible to bring to a close the very sad chapter in the history of our region. A chapter characterised by conflict, insecurity, political instability and missed economic opportunities," said Kikwete.

Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni called for the strengthening of the draft pact to criminalise individuals who aided conflicts in the region. There should also be a provision on non-aggression and mutual defence through which a member country can ask for help to deal with 'negative forces' in its territory.

Museveni said 50 percent of the Great Lakes problems had been solved with the DRC elections. However, he urged the DRC's new government to deal with the "myriad negative terrorist groups" in the DRC. The groups included several Ugandan rebels and some of the forces accused of committing genocide in Rwanda in 1994.

"Uganda has been waiting for our Congolese brothers to complete the election process," said Museveni. "They have now done so. As we congratulate them, we also expect a solution to this problem," said the Ugandan leader.

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.

To accommodate diverse regional interests, the 11 core countries - Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, DRC, Republic of Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia - have been supplemented by seven 'co-opted' countries - Botswana, Egypt, Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe.

The African Union was represented by the chairman of the AU Commission Alpha Oumar Konare. Others present included Ibrahima Fall, the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General to the Great Lakes Region.

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