Sat, Nov 20, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Summit held to negotiate end to conflict in Congo


UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan was to meet yesterday with 11 African leaders in Tanzania to push for lasting peace in central Africa where the past decade has seen millions die in wars, rebellions and a genocide.

During the two-day summit, the African leaders "are expected to sign a commitment to restore peace and security in the region, strengthen economic ties and address the humanitarian crisis" triggered by years of strife and conflict, African Union spokesman Assane Ba said.

Africa's Great Lakes region -- an area bordered by Congo, Rwanda and Burundi -- has been unstable since the 1994 genocide in Rwanda in which more than 500,000 people, most of them from the country's Tutsi minority, were slaughtered by a regime of extremists from its Hutu majority.

After Tutsi rebels ended the Rwanda genocide, the extremist Hutus fled into eastern Congo, launching raids on Rwanda and triggering a Rwandan invasion of its much larger neighbor in 1996.

Rwanda, along with Uganda and Burundi, again invaded in 1998 to back Congolese rebels, sparking a war that drew in six African nations and killed an estimated 3.3 million people, most dying from war-induced hunger and disease. The conflict ended last year, although sporadic fighting continues in parts of Congo.

Congo's conflict also aggravated the civil war in Burundi, a conflict that is still simmering. More than 260,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the conflict between the Tutsi-dominated army and Hutu rebel factions in Burundi.

"The region has been unstable for a while now ... the main aim of the conference is to come up with a declaration in which the leaders deal with issues of peace and security, economic development of the region and the humanitarian situation," Ba said.

"We don't have that commitment yet and if we come out with that declaration, then the heads of state will be expected to respect those things and help each other fight instability and strengthen governance and the respect of human rights in this region," Ba said.

The Great Lakes conference is being sponsored by the UN and the African Union.

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