DR Congo and Rwanda leaders make a historic move

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President Joseph Kabila of DR Congo and President Paul Kegame of Rwanda have agreed to better cooperate towards regional peace, stability and development. Both countries have agreed to develop projects to exploit natural gas reserves in Lake Kivu, which lies between the two countries, to revive joint commissions that have lain dormant for years, and to dissolve militia operations in the region. The leaders were meeting for the first time in thirteen years.

DR Congo and Rwanda are connected by the spill over of the 1994 Rwanda genocide, and the first and second Congo wars in a backdrop of Belgian-created Tutsi-Hutu differences. However, both governments have sought to amend rough edges and cooperate towards a better future for Rwandans and Congolese.

According to DR Congo Cooperation Minister Raymond Tshibanda, “The presidents met for over two hours in the lakeside city of Goma in eastern Congo and reviewed all issues of common interest.” The restoration of diplomatic ties between the former foes promises to relaunch their battered economies. The meeting comes a month after both sides appointed ambassadors to their respective capitals (Kigali and Kinshasa) which was appreciated by the international community.

In late 2002 after signing a peace deal with Kinshasa, Rwanda withdrew its forces from DR Congo. But tensions continued, with Rwanda accusing the Congolese army of aiding Hutu rebels in eastern DR Congo. The two countries, in January 2009, agreed to take joint action against the Hutu Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR) rebels in Congo. In line with the insurgency against militias in Congo, Rwandan forces captured and retained Congolese Tutsi rebel leader Laurent Nkunda, who is now wanted in Congo. However, Mr. Kegame promised his Congolese counterpart that Rwanda would never be a base for militias that could destabilize Congo.

Rwanda has been beset by ethnic tension associated with the traditionally unequal relationship between the dominant Tutsi minority and the majority Hutus. The country is trying to shake off its image associated with the 1994 state-sponsored genocide; the government argues the country is now stable. Growth has exceeded 5% in the five years since 2001, driven by coffee and tea exports and expanding tourism; poverty is widespread and Rwanda is highly dependent on aid. The 1998 insurrection by rebels linked to Rwanda and Uganda triggered the first and second Congo war involving six other nations. The UN accused foreign governments, corporations and militia’s of prolonging the conflict as they plundered Congo for natural resources.

The two presidents have in the past met several times on the sidelines of international summits aimed at resolving the conflict in eastern Congo, where each has long accused the other of backing rebel groups. But with what has been described by many as a new era for both countries, issues, whether diplomatic, political or economic will now be represented and discussed beween the two countries for collective interests.

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