The foreign ministers of Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Rwanda decided on Sunday in the Belgian capital, Brussels, to reinitiate economic cooperation by reactivating the Economic Community of the Great Lakes Countries.
The community, known by its French acronym CEPGL (Communauté économique des Pays des Grands Lacs), collapsed in 1998 when fighting broke out between Rwanda and the DRC.
"The reactivation of the regional economic structures will constitute a vital complement to the current peace and transitional phases in these countries", the ministers said in a statement issued at the end of their meeting.
The CEPGL structures that are to be re-launched cover economic, energy, conservation and social domains. They will include the Development Bank of the Great Lakes States (BDEGL), based in the eastern Congolese town of Goma; the Great Lakes International Electricity Company (Sinelac - Societé internationale d’électricité des Grands Lacs), based in Bukavu in eastern DRC; and the Great Lakes Energy Organisation (EGL - Organisation pour l’Energie des Grands Lacs), based in the Burundian capital, Bujumbura.
The Institute for Agronomical and Zoological Research (Iraz - Institut de recherche agronomique et zootechnique), based in the central Burundian province of Gitega is also to be reactivated. Social dialogue aimed at reinforcing the partnership among social partners and to implement conflict prevention mechanisms is to be revived.
The three ministers, Térence Sinunguruza of Burundi, Antoine Ghonda of the DRC and Charles Murigande of Rwanda, met at the invitation of their Belgian counterpart, Louis Michel.
In the short term, the ministers decided to launch a commission to evaluate and revive the mechanisms and instruments of the CEPGL. Experts from all three countries as well as the African Union, UN, EU and the governments of Belgium and Netherlands are to support the commission.
The first CEPGL meeting is scheduled for 15 September at the initiative of Burundi, currently president of the organisation. A follow-up committee would also be implemented and could be enlarged to include countries such as the US, UK and France. This committee would meet every three months, with the first meeting scheduled for mid-October.
The objective of the reactivation of the CEPGL is to consolidate peace and stability in the Great Lakes Region. "We cannot wait that all the problems be solved before re-launching cooperation. The CEPGL can act as an element in rebuilding of mutual trust. Everything should go forward in tandem", Michel said during a news conference.
The CEPGL was created in 1976, with Gisenyi (Rwanda) as its centre. The aim was to promote regional integration through the free circulation of goods and persons, the promotion of trade and the cooperation in various fields, including cultural, economic and scientific.
"Although the CEPGL has remained lethargic for many years, people were continuously able to circulate freely across the borders without any visa or work permit," Murigande told reporters.
He added: "Thousands of Congolese live peacefully in Rwanda. There is no resentment among the populations. If the leadership is committed to positive actions, populations will follow."
When asked claims that Rwanda has "expansionist views", Murigande replied that these views did not exist at all. "We recognize the sovereignty of the countries within the borders inherited from the colonisation", he said.
Some angry Congolese demonstrated in front of the meeting's venue, accusing the Kinshasa government of "sell[ing] the DRC" to Rwanda.
The Brussels meeting follows several months of escalating tensions between the DRC and Rwanda, its eastern neighbour. The tensions reached a boiling point when dissident DRC soldiers staged a weeklong occupation of the South Kivu provincial capital of Bukavu. DRC President Joseph Kabila publicly accused Rwandan authorities of backing the insurgents, a claim Rwanda has categorically denied.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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