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Security Cl Backs African Great Lakes conference

Security Council backs progress on preparing African Great Lakes conference

The United Nations Security Council today praised the progress made towards staging an international conference on Africa's Great Lakes region, saying the proposed event should help build lasting peace in the region.

During a debate in New York, the Council adopted a Presidential statement saying it supported the proposed conference on peace, security, democracy and development.

The statement, read out by the President of the 15-member body, Ambassador Ismael Abraão Gaspar Martins of Angola, said the Council "expresses satisfaction at the fact that the countries of the region have launched the preparatory process of the conference…and considers it now crucial to follow up this initial step with intensified efforts."

It also said the conference would build on the advances made in the peace processes in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which have both been beset by long-running civil conflict.

Formal preparations have begun for the International Conference on the Great Lakes, organized by the UN and the African Union, with the first of two summits involving Heads of State scheduled to take place next June.

The Council said today it was important that the international community provided political, diplomatic, technical and financial help to the Great Lakes countries.

In the debate that followed, Francisco Madeira, Mozambique's Minister for Parliamentary and Diplomatic Issues and the representative today of the African Union's Presidency, said it was "a time of hope" in the Great Lakes region.

Mr. Madeira said the region's peoples were "reclaiming their identity and creating the conditions for development."

Speaking on behalf of the Great Lakes countries, Abdulkader Shareef, Tanzania's Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, said he appreciated the consensus behind setting up the conference after a decade of consultations.

Mr. Shareef said that to be considered a success, the conference must produce concrete measures to improve peace and security. He added that a Marshall Plan-style programme is also required for economic recovery and reconstruction.

Keli Walubita, the Special Envoy of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission for the Great Lakes region, said the participation of Zambia and the Republic of Congo still needs to be clarified.

Mr. Walubita said the African Union was doing all it could to help organize the Conference.

Marcello Spatafora of Italy, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the Great Lakes area had become a major focus of EU foreign policy as a test case of Africa's ability to become master of its own destiny. The conference could provide the framework for ensuring a regional approach to the Union's support for the consolidation of peace and development in the region.

Mr. Spatafora added that African ownership was critical to the success of the conference, which he saw as the beginning of a normalization process rather than as a one-time event. Success would depend primarily on the common political will of the involved countries to achieve shared objectives.

Ibrahima Fall, Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Representative for the Great Lakes region, told the Council that arrangements would be made to ensure that civil society, young people and women would participate in the conference.

Mr. Fall said the preparatory conferences being held over the next few months would shape the eventual priorities for the summits and the rest of the conference.

The core countries of the Great Lakes region are Burundi, the DRC, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.

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