Kinshasa is to hold peace negotiations Today (Tuesday) with Kigali over the repatriation of Congolese refugees from Rwanda in Goma, capital of the restive North Kivu province. The two day talks, which are expected to be attended by a representative of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), would also focus on working out the modalities of the return of Congolese refugees in the central African region. The presence of Congolese refugees has been a rallying cry of former Congolese renegade Army general Laurent Nkunda who claims he was fighting on behalf of the refugees.
Jack Kahora is VOA's correspondent in the DRC. He tells reporter Peter Clottey that residents of North Kivu are cautiously optimistic about the prospects of today's peace negotiations.
"Today, Tuesday and tomorrow Wednesday there is a scheduled meeting which is called the tripartite. It is a meeting which is going to bring together the government of Rwanda, the government of DRC that is the Democratic Republic of Congo as well as the representative of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Goma. The meeting would be about the return of the Congolese refugees who are living in neighboring countries," Kahora noted.
He said Tuesday's meeting would focus on among other issues on finding ways to resolve the Congolese refugee problem.
"In fact they would be discussing the modalities of the repatriation of the refugees. You know these refugees have been in the neighboring countries for the last 15 years and some of them went or left the country to Uganda, others to Burundi. And these refugees fled during the massacre orchestrated by the Hutu militia the FDLR (Forces for the Democratic Liberation of Rwanda) rebel group when they entered into go Congo in 1994 they were afraid to stay in the country because of the presence of the FDLR forces. So, they had to abscond to neighboring countries," he said.
Kahora said the presence of the refugees in neighboring countries has been the rallying cry for the former leader of the CNDP ( National Congress For the Defense of the People) rebel group, renegade army general Laurent Nkunda.
"You know the leader of the CNDP Laurent Nkunda all the time used to claim that there is need for the return of Congolese refugees and that was one of his complains. Now it looks like this meeting is going to resolve the problem of the refugee situation and we think that today and tomorrow's meeting would focus on the modalities of the repatriation of the refugees. I think they have to have a record of these refugees because some of the refugees who went away when they were still children, but now they are grownups. So, there is need for refugees, but they also have to think about where they are going to be in terms of hosting them," Kahora pointed out.
He said although Tuesday's meeting is between Kinshasa and Kigali, other neighboring countries hosting the refuges would be included in future negotiations.
"I think it is a first step and first of all the meeting is going to be between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo and the UNHCR and obviously in the coming days these countries would be included," he said.
Kahora said there are ongoing efforts from Kigali and Kinshasa to normalize and strengthen bilateral relationship between the two countries after a recent testy relationship.
"You know the conflict which disturbed the whole region was between Rwanda and DRC and you know there is an ongoing peace agreement between the two countries in which they are trying to normalize their diplomatic relationship and economic issues. So, this is the reason why only the two countries are holding the peace talks today here in Goma. I guess later on other neighboring countries can be involved in the negotiations of the repatriation of Congolese refugees in their respective countries," Kahora noted.
He said North Kivu residents are expressing cautious optimism ahead of Tuesday's peace negotiations between the DRC and Rwanda.
"The people of Goma are trying to observe what is going to happen, but it could be also observed that there are speculations that there could be trouble once the refugees are returning to Congo. Remember the refugees left their villages and properties, their lands are now being occupied by other people and nobody knows what will happen once they return to claim their property," he said.