The United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, today hailed the signing of a peace agreement in South Africa between the Governments of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Rwanda as a step towards ending the devastating conflict in the Great Lakes region.
A statement released by the Secretary-General's spokesman in New York said Mr. Annan welcomed the "renewed commitment" of the Governments to a mutually agreed settlement process, including a cessation of hostilities, aimed at making concrete progress toward peace in the region.
"The United Nations stands ready to support the implementation of the agreement and looks forward to discussing the practical modalities with the parties concerned," spokesman Fred Eckhard said.
Mr. Annan also extended his appreciation to the Government of South Africa and President Thabo Mbeki in particular "for their role in bringing the two Governments together," the spokesman added.
Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) heralded the signing in Pretoria as a milestone that could pave the way to peace and the return of tens of thousands of refugees.
"We certainly see this as an encouraging sign and hope that a peaceful future is now on the horizon for the Congo," said Ebrima Camara, Deputy Director of UNHCR's Africa Bureau. "We look forward to the day when all Congolese refugees can return home to participate in the reconstruction of their country."
According to the agency, the humanitarian cost of the conflict in the DRC has been enormous, with up to 3 million dead and an estimated 2 million people displaced internally. An estimated 16 million people are currently in need of food aid, while 40 per cent of the country's children are illiterate and two out of five die in infancy.
UNHCR said that since the conflicts in the Great Lakes region were so closely inter-linked, it also hoped that the implementation of the agreement could spur the Burundi peace process and lead to an improvement in the general security and political situation in Rwanda.