/ 6 August 2009

Rwandan, Congolese presidents hold landmark talks

Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) President Joseph Kabila met his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame on Thursday in the lakeside city of Goma for the first official bilateral talks between the neighbouring states in 13 years.

Kagame, wearing a black jacket and shirt with a small Rwandan flag on the breast, was greeted at the border by Kabila amid tight security provided by both armies.

The two men then walked a few hundred metres to a hotel where they began their discussions, applauded by hundreds of locals lining the road.

The two presidents have met several times on the sidelines of international summits aimed at resolving the conflict in eastern DRC, where each accuses the other of backing rebel groups.

However, Thursday’s was the first official bilateral meeting since the countries broke off diplomatic relations in 1996 after Rwandan forces invaded eastern DRC, in pursuit of Hutu FDLR rebels who had taken refuge there after the 1994 genocide.

After being briefly revived, diplomatic ties were definitively broken off in 1998, following a second Rwandan incursion.

Neither president made any public comments before sitting down to discussions in the hotel on the shores of Lake Kivu.

The meeting marks ”a first step” in the normalisation of diplomatic relations between the two countries, Rwandan Foreign Minister Rosemary Museminali told Agence France-Presse in Kigali.

Museminali was speaking after meeting Congolese Cooperation Minister Raymond Tshibanda on Wednesday.

The Kinshasa daily Le Potentiel said the meeting of the two presidents would also focus on ecomonic issues as well as security matters in the eastern DRC.

The discussions were expected to build on a marked improvement in relations last year, when Kabila invited Rwanda to send troops into eastern DRC as part of a joint military operation to oust Rwandan Hutu FDLR rebels.

The operation ended without attaining its main objectives, but it marked an important step in what is expected to be a long process of normalising ties.

The joint operation ousted Congolese rebels once loyal to Rwanda, and their leader Laurent Nkunda was arrested by Rwanda, but FDLR rebels remain active in eastern Congo.

Last month, Kinshasa named its first ambassador to Kigali in more than a decade. Rwanda named its ambassador in early May. — Sapa-AFP