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Great Lakes Policy Forum—Meeting Summary—November 13, 1997

Speakers: Robert Gribbin III, Ambassador to Rwanda, Daniel H. Simpson, Ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Morris Hughes, Ambassador to Burundi, Howard Wolpe, U.S. Special Envoy to Burundi, and Jeff Drumtra, U.S. Committee for Refugees
November 13, 1997
Council on Foreign Relations

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[Note: A transcript of this meeting is unavailable. The discussion is summarized below.]

The meeting featured updates and reports by Ambassador to Rwanda Robert Gribbin III; Ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo Daniel H. Simpson; Ambassador to Burundi Morris Hughes; U.S. Special Envoy to Burundi Howard Wolpe; and Jeff Drumtra of the U.S. Committee for Refugees.

Rwanda

  • The government of Rwanda is facing many challenges. First is the return of the two million Rwandan refugees from neighboring countries. Most have returned, but housing issues and basic structural problems in the food sector still need to be resolved.
  • Tensions have also increased in northwestern Rwanda due to an insurgency by elements of the ex-FAR and the Interahamwe. In the last couple of months, there has been an increase in the insurgents’ attempts to inflame ethnic hatred as part of their efforts to get support from the local population. One participant who had recently returned from Rwanda pointed out that the insurgency has had a tremendous psychological effect on Rwandan society far beyond the northwest and has contaminated the reconciliation process, the reintegration of returnees, and the justice system. The third challenge is the issue of justice. Approximately 120,000 people are in jail but only 200 genocide trials have taken place so far. The government has finally begun to think about the post-transition period in Rwanda but the next step will be to name the constitutional commission that was foreseen in the Arusha Accords.

Burundi

  • The government is closing some of the regroupment camps. There are still 8,500 people in jail needing to go before tribunals. Some believe that the trials have been unfair and should be suspended. One participant pointed out that there cannot be any reconciliation without justice.

Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

  • Kabila’s government has now been in power for six months. The government is composed of very different elements, including Katangans, Congolese, Ugandan and Rwandan Tutsis, and Rwandans from a very broad diaspora. This wide variety of views and groups has been a barrier to systemic and economic planning.
  • The next Friends of Congo meeting is expected to take place on December 4 in Paris.
  • One participant pointed out that the fighting in Congo Brazzaville has had a negative psychological impact on the way the DRC government makes decisions and has caused anxiety and fear in the DRC.
  • Ambassador Bill Richardson, Howard Wolpe, and Congressman Donald Payne have returned from their mission to Central Africa where they met with several leaders. The DRC government is very suspicious of any international involvement in its internal affairs, as demonstrated by the dispute about the U.N. Investigative Commission. The U.N. investigation team is perceived by the Congolese as an effort to target the regime and the alliance as the subject of the investigation, rather than a more comprehensive inquiry into the origins of the crisis and the killings that occurred earlier (in which the ex-FAR and Interahamwe may have been involved in the East). All of the governments in the region agree that it is not fair for the international community to judge the Congolese government, after having failed to prevent the Rwandan genocide and to separate the ex-FAR from the refugees.
  • It was proposed that the Organization of African Unity sponsor an evaluation of the relationship of the region with the international community.

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