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Press Briefing: Press conference by President of Rwanda

The Security Council meeting on Africa had reaffirmed the Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement as the basis for solving the Great Lakes crisis, Pasteur Bizimungu, the President of Rwanda, told correspondents at a Headquarters press conference today.
The Lusaka Agreement provided the framework for both the political process in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and security for the Congo and its neighbours, Mr. Bizimungu told correspondents.

Mr. Bizimungu, who was in New York to attend the Security Council debate on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, added that it was characteristic of the Clinton Administration not to marginalize African issues. The Security Council meetings on Africa had succeeded in focusing attention on African problems.

Referring to the Secretary-General's inquiry into the actions of the United Nations during the 1994 Rwanda genocide, Mr. Bizimungu underlined the importance of the report, which, he said, highlighted the failure of the international community to prevent the genocide. The report was both well done and complete, in that it stressed the responsibility of the United Nations and Member States for the Rwanda genocide. The report also made recommendations for reparation by the international community to Rwanda for the unfortunate experience.

Asked whether he thought the Security Council would agree on a resolution authorizing troops to go into the Democratic Republic of the Congo by the end of the week, Mr. Bizimungu said that the heads of State attending the meeting had renewed their commitment to the Lusaka Agreement. Depending on their discussions, a resolution was likely in the next week or two.

Another correspondent asked how soon he could envisage Rwanda's soldiers withdrawing from the territory of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and what role the United Nations soldiers should play in relation to the Interahamwe and other militia groups. Mr. Bizimungu said that the fundamental problem was security. If the international community or the Security Council could guarantee that President Kabila and his allies would not endanger Rwandan soldiers, and that the Interahamwe would not rush immediately into Rwanda following a withdrawal, they would leave the country.

He added that the Security Council and the international community had come to realize that the disarmament of the ex-FAR (Forces Armees Rwandaises) and Interahamwe and other negative forces attacking Uganda and Burundi was crucial, in order for security to be restored.

A correspondent asked what the United Nations could do to disarm and demobilize the Interahamwe and other militia. Mr. Bizimungu responded that part of the solution would be to ensure that those groups would not be rearmed or supplied with munitions. They were dangerous groups that benefited from the support of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The second part of the solution would be to deny them the possibility of support from the Congo Government. They should also be denied the possibility of using the Congo's territory. A third means would be to physically disarm the groups, which would not be difficult. They were very good at killing civilians, but apart from their handling of arms, he had not seen any other examples of their brilliance.

A correspondent asked Mr. Bizimungu to respond to President Kabila's statement that Rwanda had sent soldiers with AIDS into the Democratic Republic of Congo. He replied that he could not explain President Kabila's position. He did not know how AIDS could be transmitted in that way.

What efforts was the Government of Rwanda taking to harmonize relations between the different ethnic groups? a correspondent asked. The Government had responded by proclaiming that all Rwandans have the same rights and by affirming that all Rwandans are treated in the same way, he said. In that context, more than 4 million refugees had been repatriated in a three-year period. There was, however, no "miracle" solution to the problem.

A correspondent asked Mr. Bizimungu to explain the current vogue of creating "concentration camps" in Rwanda. If there was information about such camps in Rwanda, it was completely inaccurate, he said. There were no such camps in Rwanda.

Regarding the possibility of Rwanda participating in a regional conference on the Great Lakes, Mr. Bizimungu said that the agenda for such a meeting had not yet been defined. They would first have to be familiar with the details of the conference, before agreeing to participate.

How could peace be brought to the Great Lakes region if the leaders of the region could not agree to create an atmosphere of trust among themselves? a correspondent asked. While it was true that there was still distrust and verbal violence among the parties to the Lusaka Agreement, they had at least managed to discuss the Lusaka Agreement, Mr. Bizimungu said. They had also reached an agreement on the fundamental problems underlying the crisis. Building trust was a long process, however. With the support of the international community, the process of confidence-building could be restarted.

A correspondent asked whether the Lusaka Agreement needed to be changed, as the President of Angola had suggested, to affirm the legitimacy of the Kabila Government. There was general agreement, Mr. Bizimungu said, that they were not there to renegotiate the Lusaka Agreement. A meeting of the warring parties in Maputo, Mozambique, was necessary, and would provide an opportunity to explain their position to the Angolan President. Although the rebels were not at present at the Security Council meeting, all parties to the conflict, including the rebels, would be present at the meeting in Maputo.

Regarding South Africa's role in the conflict, Mr. Bizimungu said that South Africa was not playing a negative role in the conflict. South Africa had, in fact, been helping the Lusaka peace process.