The leaders of Rwanda and the DRC held a rare meeting on the border in the latest sign of thawing relations between the neighbouring states after years of tension.
Rwandan and Congolese military forces launched a joint operation this year against a Hutu rebel group operating in the forests of lawless eastern Congo, and both governments appointed envoys to the other’s capital, Reuters reports.
Plans are also underway to build a jointly operated methane gas plant that will generate electricity for both countries.
“It is the first giant step forward,” Congo’s President Joseph Kabila told reporters of the talks with his Rwandan counterpart, Paul Kagame.
“It was overdue. It should have taken place a long time back, but better late than never.”
Rivalries between the two states, which back different militias in mineral-rich eastern Congo, have long frustrated efforts to bring peace following a 1998-2003 war thought to have led to the death of more than five million people.
But policy changes led them to collaborate this year against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) rebel group, which is linked to the militants who carried out Rwanda’s 1994 genocide that killed some 800 000 people.
Kabila said the FDLR’s days were numbered: “They are now in a much weaker position than before.”
Both presidents agreed to plan further joint economic activities and to revive the Rwanda-DRC Joint Permanent Commission, which has not been in operation for 21 years. The pair are due to meet again in Kinshasa in October or November.
“To run you begin with one step. I think we have now taken this step and can begin to run,” Kagame said.
“It is a sign of the friendship, stability and very good relations that have developed between Rwanda and DRC.”
One contentious topic remains the fate of rebel general Laurent Nkunda, the former leader of the ethnic Tutsi-dominated National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), who was arrested in January in Rwanda and is wanted in Congo.
Rwanda says it has hesitated to extradite him because he could face the death penalty in Congo, and that legal experts from both countries were studying the problem.
Kagame sought to allay Congolese fears.
“I can give a very firm assurance that neither Laurent Nkunda nor the CNDP can base in Rwanda to cause any discomfort or affect the stability created in DRC or between DRC and Rwanda,” he said.
Pic: President Paul Kgame of Rwanda and President Joseph Kabila of the DRC