Rwanda and Congo Making Progress Toward Peace

Rwanda and Congo Making Progress Toward Peace

Published September 22, 2009

NEW YORK (AP) -- Rwanda's president said Monday his country and neighboring Congo are making "very good progress" in restoring peace to war-torn central Africa.

Paul Kagame said a January offensive by forces from both countries aimed at disarming Rwandan Hutu fighters in the Democratic Republic of Congo achieved a "major breakthrough" by drastically decreasing fighting and seriously weakening the command of the Hutu rebels.

But Kagame said both countries recognize "that there is still a lot of work to be done."

"We're making very good progress," he said in a speech to the International Peace Institute. "The major problems have been resolved. That's the starting point."

Central Africa's Great Lakes region has been a hotbed of political instability and fighting since the 1994 genocide in Rwanda saw more than 500,000 people, most of them from the country's Tutsi minority, slaughtered by a regime of extremists from its Hutu majority.

After Tutsi rebels led by Kagame ended the genocide, the extremist Hutus fled into neighboring eastern Congo.

Since then, Rwanda has, together with neighbor Uganda, twice invaded Congo - in 1994 and 1998. During each invasion Rwanda has said it was chasing down the Rwandan militias. The second invasion sparked a five-year, six-nation war in Congo that killed some 3 million people.

Congo, known as the DRC, cut off diplomatic relations with Rwanda over its support of a rebel movement whose mission was to hunt the Rwandan Hutu fighters in eastern Congo after the genocide.

Kagame disputed claims that Rwanda intervened in Congo to exploit the country's rich natural resources, using the hunt for perpetrators of the genocide as a pretext.

"Rwanda does not have capacity to exploit our own mineral resources," he said, so "how can we take advantage of those in the DRC?"

The United Nations established a peacekeeping force in Congo in November 1999 which Kagame said was very costly and did not achieve "corresponding results," because fighting continued and the Hutu rebels were not disarmed.

Rwanda and Congo normalized relations in 2007, and in January, both armies teamed up and conducted a successful joint offensive in volatile eastern Congo.

"The situation has now changed fundamentally because Rwanda and the DRC both now recognize that we must work together to find answers to peace for Congo," Kagame said.

"On the political and diplomatic front, we have now exchanged ambassadors with the DRC, paving the way for further efforts in the more important realms of economic growth and development including joint projects in energy, environment, trade and investment," he said.

Kagame said both countries also need to do things in their own countries to manage the remaining problems.

"How effectively they are able to manage these complex problems they have to deal with may be different than how we manage to deal with our own problems within our borders," he said. "But these collaborative efforts are very important and they ... have made a huge difference."

Kagame urged the international community to continue supporting peace efforts in eastern Congo and to tackle the root causes of the conflict.

"Genocide in Rwanda - the causes of it are not Rwandan, are not African," he said. The genocide "has its roots somewhere else."

Without naming any individuals or countries, Kagame said most people who organized the genocide were outside Rwanda's borders, yet none have been held accountable.

Some 63,000 people are suspected of taking part in the genocide.

The Rwandan leader questioned the fairness of the International Criminal Court, the world's first permanent war crimes tribunal, saying it is widely seen as targeting Africans, developing countries or weak countries and not dispensing justice equitably on a global basis.

Written by Associated Press


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