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Call for special fund for war-torn region

Declaring Africa's Great Lakes region a "specific reconstruction and development area," foreign ministers from countries in the region called on the international donor community on Friday to set up a special fund to transform the volatile region into a "haven of peace". Such a fund, they said, would enable the countries to establish programmes that would help end instability in the region. "The ministers committed themselves to undertake efforts to sensitise development partners on this proposal to advocate for its support, while highlighting its regional scope," according to the summary of a report adopted at the end of their two-day conference in Kigali, the Rwandan capital. The meeting - dubbed the Regional Inter-Ministerial Committee - was held under an initiative of the UN and the African Union (AU). The ministers mapped out strategies of implementing a regional pact on security, stability and development signed in November 2004 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Their meeting was the first in a series of follow-up conferences of the November summit, ahead of a second regional heads-of-state summit, due to be held in Kenya later in 2005. The ministers resolved to ask key donors, including the UN and the international donor community, to fund efforts aimed at improving peace and security in the region. The Great Lakes, a region encompassing Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda - has been unstable since Rwanda's 1994 genocide, in which up to 937,000 people were killed, according to Rwandan government estimates. Despite their abundant natural resources, some countries in the region rank among the poorest in the world, a result of years of recurrent conflicts that led to stagnation in economic growth, and the destruction of economic and social infrastructure. The ministers said they would use an upcoming meeting of the Group of Eight countries to advocate their proposal. Tanzania's foreign minister, Jakaya Kikwete, said his country would chair the UN Security Council in early 2006 and was planning to put the region's proposal on the council's agenda. "There must be sustainable mobilisation and international attention on the problems in the Great Lakes region, with its dire humanitarian and socio-economic consequences, which merit the promotion of a comprehensive development package," the summary of the ministers' report said. They expressed concern that the region risked further marginalisation and could face stiff competition for international resources, notably in the wake of the Asian Tsunami disaster and the signing of a peace accord in Sudan - two issues which have attracted considerable international support in recent times. During their meeting, the ministers discussed proposals on four themes of the AU-UN-supported International Conference on the Great Lakes Region. These are: peace and security; democracy and good governance; economic development and regional integration; and, humanitarian and social issues. Heads of state within the region are expected to adopt proposals on these themes when they meet later in 2005. These suggested protocols focus on efforts to improve peace and security and entail curbing the proliferation and circulation of small arms and light weapons, improving border security, carrying out systematic disarmament of combatants, as well as increasing defence and security cooperation among the countries in the region. The ministers also discussed proposed protocols on improving democracy and governance, including restoration of law and order in the region, improving judicial systems, promoting human rights and fighting impunity. Fifteen African leaders, among them the heads of state of the Great Lakes countries, signed a declaration 20 November 2004 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, outlining protocols of the proposed regional pact.

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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