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African Leaders Hold Great Lakes Summit


The leaders of 11 African countries, who began a two-day summit in Tanzania Friday, are expected to sign a declaration covering peace and security, governance, economic development, and regional cooperation in the Great Lakes region.

The heads of state of 10 countries, plus the prime minister of Angola, are pouring over the text of a draft declaration that their foreign ministers put together earlier this week.

The document proposes several measures to improve security, governance, development, and the human rights situation in the Great Lakes region.

Among other things, it calls for a ban on supplying arms to rebel groups operating in the region, the formation of programs to disarm, demobilize and resettle rebels, and cooperation among countries on defense issues.

The draft also urges governments to guarantee the safety of humanitarian workers work to clear anti-personnel mines and create a Regional Early Warning and Rapid Response Mechanism for manmade and natural disasters.

The United Nations' Special Representative for the Great Lakes Region organized the first-ever summit.

"It was necessitated by the genocide in Rwanda firstly and the war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which sucked in many other countries into that, and it became a regional affair," explained spokesman George Ola Davies. "If there is no regional mechanism to halt these problems, then we will continue to see them exacerbated and continued."

The 1994 Rwandan genocide, in which Hutu extremists killed an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus, is believed to have sparked the most recent round of violence and chaos in the region.

Many of the extremists fled to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where they set up bases. Rwanda invaded the DRC in 1996 and 1998 to hunt them down. Rwanda has accused the DRC of supporting the extremists, while the DRC has accused Rwanda as using them as an excuse to invade.

Meanwhile, the war in the DRC from 1998 to 2003 drew in forces from Rwanda, Uganda, Angola, Zimbabwe, and other countries, which supported various rebel groups involved in the conflict. The war is estimated to have claimed three million lives.

The civil war in Burundi began in 1993 largely to protest the domination of the minority Tutsis in the army and political sphere. Some 300,000 people were killed in that conflict.

U.N. spokesman George Ola Davies says, despite the grim history within and among the countries, the mood at the summit is upbeat and positive.

"They recognize the fact that the countries in the region have had these differences and it is time for settling these differences," he said. "Three years ago this would have been inconceivable. The atmosphere that has been prevailing here has been that of serenity, that of calmness, and that of enthusiasm."

Mr. Ola Davis says after the summit, which concludes Saturday, a regional inter-ministerial committee is expected to organize a second summit, to be held in Uganda next year.

This summit, held in Tanzania's capital Dar es Salaam, brings together the leaders of Angola, Burundi, the Central African Republic, the Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia.