Pretoria — The president of the Democratic Republic of Congo says he is optimistic about the latest South African and United Nations' brokered peace initiative to end the war in his country, which has sucked in half a dozen of Congo's neighbours.
Interviewed on Tuesday after signing a peace agreement with Rwanda, Joseph Kabila said he sensed a new political commitment by Rwandan and other leaders to end Africa's biggest and most complex conflict.
Congo and Rwanda -- which backs the biggest rebel group in the DRC -- have been at war for the past four years. Tuesday's agreement calls for the eventual withdrawal of Rwandan troops from Congo. Kabila's government has pledged to round up, disarm and repatriate Congo-based Rwandan Hutu militias and former soldiers, accused by Kigali of carrying out the genocide of 1994.
Kabila said he would be holding regular meetings with his Rwandan counterpart, Paul Kagame, the other signatory to the Pretoria pact.
The interview was conducted AllAfrica's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton and Reuters correspondent Manoah Esipisu. Excerpts from answers given by Kabila at an earlier joint news briefing are included.
President Kabila, you seem confident about the possibilities for peace after signing an agreement with Rwanda.
I sense that this time there is a genuine commitment by the political leaders to ensure that we succeed in reaching our aim of peace. The people of the Great Lakes region will be granted their peace reward. I shall play my part to ensure that peace succeeds.
Is four months long enough to implement everything you have agreed and to disarm and repatriate the Rwandan Hutu militias and former Rwandan troops (ex-FAR)?
It's three months, it's three months. As I've said, every month-end we, the heads of state, shall meet on a rotational basis, in Kigali (the Rwandan capital), Kinshasa (DRC capital) and maybe here (in Pretoria, the South African capital) to review progress and to ensure that we stay on course.
So we've reached an agreement that we will be meeting in order to assess developments and the evolution of the whole process, and I believe at the end of each and every month we will be able to say whether more time is needed and whether we are still on track. So I don't see any problems with the follow up.
These meetings will take stock of what is happening, where we are heading, where we are doing wrong and what we need to fix. So people must have the will and people should be committed. We will ensure that the (peace) pact is implemented and any obstacles quickly removed.
People should be committed and realise that it is peace we want and it is peace we shall get.
What is your response to accusations that some of these Rwandan Interahamwe and ex-FAR have been integrated into the regular Congolese army and will be hard to identify and repatriate?
I'll clarify that.
First of all, we don't have any 'Interahamwe' or ex-FAR in the Congolese armed forces. That's untrue and baseless, and we are ready to prove that. We are ready to prove that to anybody who cares to come and look. That's point one.
Two: be they 'Interahamwe', be they ex-FAR who seem to say that they don't want to go back to Rwanda etc, I'd like to tell you that apart from those who have been armed and those who have been disarmed, we have got more or less 6,000 of them civilians (according to them) who are now living as refugees in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
According to the agreement we have just signed, the third party (United Nations and South Africa in its dual capacity as facilitator of the peace talks and chair of the African Union), they will come to the areas that are under the control of the government and verify the presence of all Rwandese citizens, Rwandese armed elements who are there, and I believe the proper procedures will be followed in repatriating them to Rwanda.
So, we will cross the bridge when we reach the bridge.
There will be ups and downs in implementing this particular agreement, but I count on the determination of the government of the Congo, the people of the Congo and the people of the region to find peace. There won't be any problem without a solution. So let me say that maybe this is the beginning of that particular solution. So, instead of trying to put down our morale, you should be trying to raise it!
How do you intend to round up, disarm and deliver the 'Interahamwe' and ex Rwandan soldiers?
Rounding up the 'Interahamwe' is something we've done before. We have already rounded up 2,000 people (and put them in a camp in the town) in Kamina, so it's not something new for us. This is not something new, we will continue to trace them, to tell them that they have to understand that our country is not theirs, their country is Rwanda and they should be heading back to their country.
I believe in persuasion and will be telling them the importance of returning home.
What if you meet any resistance?
If they resist, we can use force, but I don't believe that will happen. I do not expect any resistance.
But those who don't want to go home (to Rwanda), then the countries that are party to this agreement, namely Rwanda and us the DRC, we will meet and decide what to do with them, after the verification mission by South Africa and the United Nations (guarantors of Tuesday's peace agreement). Then we will determine what sort of place we will put them.
But we have sufficient time to organise and fix this and to get them to go where they need to go. So far we haven't met any resistance in demobilising and disarming them. We hope that we can continue to demobilise without any resistance.