afrol.com, 21 February - UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan yesterday said he was observing a "new spirit" among the protagonists to the conflict to work towards peace in the region. "I was very encouraged by my discussions here in tête-à-tête with President Kabila [of Congo Kinshasa] and President Kagame [of Rwanda] and yesterday I had a very good conversation with President Kagame," said Annan.
The UN Security Council is about to arrange new meetings on the situation in Congo Kinshasa (DRC), and Annan claimed optimism ahead of the meetings. Annan yesterday arrived at the UN Headquarters in New York after a visit to the region.
On a New York press conference, Annan said Rwandan President Paul Kagame had informed him that his troops would be withdrawing 200 kilometers from Pweto in the direction of their own country. Pweto, a regional centre close to the Zambian border, was subject to heavy fights between Rwandan backed rebels and DRC backed troops only in December 2000. The fights produces close to 100,000 refugees. In October 2000, Rwandan troops had agreed to withdraw 200 kilometres from the front, but a DRC offensive broke the ceasefire and produced the battle of Pweto.
The UN thus is fast in taking advantage of the new opportunity. Annan said he had "instructed the UN Observers and my Special Representative, Mr. Kamal Morjane, to get the observers ready to go and work with them on their withdrawal. I think this is a very important decision and I hope it will set the tone and lead others to take the same initiatives and eventually have everyone withdraw from the Congo."
A second significant development last week was the decision by President Joseph Kabila to accept former President Ketumile Masire of Botswana as the neutral facilitator for the Inter-Congolese dialogue, the UN Secretary-General said. Masire has been the facilitator for the conflict for a long time, but Joseph Kabila's late father, President Laurent Kabila did not trust him and refused to use him.
- I think this is crucial, Annan said. "They are all linked. If you make progress on the dialogue and those who are fighting have a sense that they have a role to play and they can participate in national politics, you may be able to persuade them to stop the fighting." Kinshasa had tried to change the reknown statesman Masire for Gabonese President Omar Bongo, which is believed to be closer to the DRC government. Masire, on the other hand, has demonstrated openess for both sides to the conflict.
The new Kinshasa support to Masire came on a summit in Lusaka (neutral Zambia) on 16 February. Although Rwanda did not attend to the summit (claiming Zambia has a bias towards Kinshasa and its allies), Rwandan President Kagame welcomed the outcome of the summit. President Kagame stated he fully agreed with and supported "the outcome of the Lusaka Summit where the facilitator for the inter-Congolese national dialogue, Sir Ketumile Masire, has been accepted, and commitment to disengagement and other aspects of the Lusaka Agreement has been reaffirmed." It was seen as a major step towards rebuilding trust between Kinshasa and Kigali.
Responding to a question from a reporter on whether there had been some reassurances to President Kagame on the disarming of the Interhamwe (Rwandan death squads responsible for the 1994 genocide), Kofi Annan acknowledged that the issue of the Interhamwe was of "great concern" to the Rwandan President. "Obviously if we are going to bring peace to that region we need to find ways of dealing with the Interhamwe," he said. "There are some ideas which are being discussed. I don't think they are ripe yet for me to discuss, but we are not ignoring that issue."
The Interhamwe has been in Congolese exile since expelled from Rwanda after the genocide. From bases close to the Rwandan border, the death squads again started to destabilise the country, provoking Rwanda to intervene in the DRC twice. The first intervention brought Laurent Kabila to power in Kinshasa. The second, still ongoing, intervention started after Laurent Kabila turned against Rwanda and started training and providing weapons to the Interhamwe again. Rwanda's main demand is the disarmment and detention of the Interhamwe.
Sources: Based on UN sources, Rwanda govt. and afrol archives