The foreign affairs ministers of 11 African countries began a two-day meeting in Rwanda aimed at strengthening the Great Lakes region.

During the course of the Regional Inter-Ministerial Committee meeting, the ministers will be looking at agreements and action plans to boost the region's security, economy, and governance. The plans were put together earlier in the week by a technical team.

The agreements and actions fall under the themes of peace and security, democracy and good governance, economic development, regional integration, and humanitarian and social issues.

The committee is part of a body called the U.N. International Conference on the Great Lakes Region. Its spokesman, George Ola-Davies, gives details on some of the topics to be discussed.

"There are various subjects within the main themes," he said. "And these have to do with security, they have got to do with borders, they have got to do with the area of economy, they have got to do with illegal mining, child soldiers."

A big challenge for the region is improving relationships among Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Uganda.

Late last month, a U.N. expert panel accused Rwanda and Uganda of supplying arms and other assistance to dissidents in the DRC in violation of an arms embargo, a charge the two countries deny.

Rwanda and the DRC in particular almost came to blows several times last year when Rwanda accused the DRC of supporting extremist Hutus responsible for the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The DRC said Rwanda was using the extremist Hutus as an excuse to invade.

Spokesman Mr. Ola-Davies said the meeting will look at creating what he calls "mechanisms" where violations of arms embargoes, incursions, and other activities that might spark conflict could be reported. He said there are many more problems in the region that need to be resolved, particularly the problem of refugees and people displaced internally during the region's many wars.

"What about the IDP's [internally-displaced persons] that are in Angola? Do we know much about them? What about those that are in Central African Republic? What about Zambia? We do not know about what is happening in Zambia but that is a real problem for Zambia and, indeed, Tanzania," he said. "The two countries have been host to so many refugees and IDPs."

The Regional Inter-Ministerial Committee was formed late last year during the first Great Lakes region summit in which the leaders of the 11 countries signed an agreement to boost security, governance, development, and the human rights situation.

Participating countries are: Angola; Burundi; Central African Republic; Republic of Congo; Democratic Republic of Congo; Kenya; Rwanda; Sudan; Tanzania; Uganda; and Zambia.