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Presidents hail "new era" at first talks in over a decade


Latest update : 2009-08-07

DR Congo President Joseph Kabila and his Rwandan counterpart, Paul Kagame, held their first official bilateral meeting since the countries broke off diplomatic relations in 1996, hailing what they called "an all new era" in diplomatic ties.

AFP - DR Congo President Joseph Kabila and Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame sealed a restoration of diplomatic ties between the former foes Thursday in their first bilateral talks in over a decade.

The presidents met for over two hours in the lakeside city of Goma in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and "reviewed all issues of common interest," said Cooperation Minister Raymond Tshibanda.

Hailing what they called "an all new era," the presidents said they had decided to revive mixed commissions which have lain dormant for years, in a bid to relaunch the war-battered economy of the border area of eastern Congo where more than one million people are homeless.

The landmark meeting comes amid an 11-day African tour by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who will visit Kinshasa next week.

The two presidents have met several times on the sidelines of international summits aimed at resolving the conflict in eastern DR Congo, where each has long accused 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 Congo in pursuit of Hutu FDLR rebels who had taken refuge there after the 1994 genocide.

After a brief revival of ties, diplomatic ties were definitively broken off in 1998, following a second Rwandan incursion.

Tshibanda, quoting from a joint communique, said Kabila and Kagame discussed fresh joint efforts "with a view to eradicating the armed groups operating in the east of the DR Congo, notably the FDLR (Democratic Front for the Liberation of Rwanda)" rebels.

The problem posed to regional security by the Rwandan Hutu rebels persists, despite a marked improvement in relations last year when Kabila invited Rwanda to send troops into eastern DR Congo as part of a joint military operation to rout the 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, where 35,000 people have recently been forced to flee fresh fighting.

The meeting comes a month after both neighbours appointed ambassadors to their respective capitals.

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 on the shores of Lake Kivu where they began their discussions, applauded by hundreds of locals lining the road.

The meeting marks "a first step" in the normalisation of ties, Rwandan Foreign Minister Rosemary Museminali told AFP in Kigali.

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

Date created : 2009-08-06