Presidents Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) signed an agreement on Tuesday to end the conflict between their two countries.
A memorandum of understanding and a timescale for the implementation of the accord were signed in Pretoria, South Africa, in the presence of South African President Thabo Mbeki, chairman of the African Union (AU); Malawi President Bakili Muluzi; South African Deputy President Jacob Zuma; South African Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini; Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General to the DRC Lena Sundh; and members of the diplomatic corps accredited to South Africa.
Speaking on the South African Broadcasting Corporation from the ceremony at the presidential guesthouse in Pretoria, Kabila said, "Today must be considered as a great day for the whole of Africa, one step more towards the sustainable development of the continent.
"The Congolese people, their government, and I are determined to live in harmony with the nine countries with which we share borders."
Kabila gave assurances that his government would apply "in all good faith" today's commitments, adding, "If there is any failure of this agreement, it won't be because of a failure on the part of the DRC government."
He called on the "entire international community", including the UN and its Security Council in particular, to support peace in the region, and thanked "all those who never ceased giving their energy so that this day would arrive".
For his part, Kagame called the accord "a big step in the direction of resolving the conflict in the DRC, Burundi, Rwanda, among other countries".
He said: "This agreement is important in many aspects, as it addresses two of the core issues that underlie conflict in the region - one, how to deal with the ex-FAR [former Rwandan armed forces] and Interahamwe [Hutu extremist militia] and two, it paves the way for the withdrawal of forces who are involved in this conflict from the DRC."
However, he warned that the agreement would not succeed without the support of the entire continent of Africa and the entire international community.
"As the international community has historically been part of the problem, they must be part of the solution," he said.
He accused the international community of having provided "more lip service than application of its capacities" to bring peace to the region.
Kagame closed his speech saying, "On behalf of my country, I wish to express that Rwanda is ready to fulfil its part of the obligation as agreed in this Memorandum of Understanding."
Following the signing of the documents, Mbeki promised that the AU, the UN and South Africa would all help to implement the accord.
The peace agreement commits the DRC to locating and disarming Rwandan Interahamwe Hutu militias and ex-FAR - the forces responsible for the 1994 genocide in Rwanda who remain active in the DRC; collaborating with the UN Mission in the DRC (known by its French acronym, MONUC) to dismantle the Interahamwe and ex-FAR; and repatriating all Rwandan ex-combatants to Rwanda, including some 2,000 presently at a UN base in Kamina, Katanga Province, southeastern DRC.
As for Rwanda, its government agreed to withdraw its troops from the DRC "as soon as effective measures have been taken to address security concerns in the DRC, in particular the dismantling of the Interahamwe and ex-FAR", an official statement from the Rwandan capital, Kigali, said.
A 90-day programme for the implementation of the agreement has been outlined and agreed upon by both countries.
Meanwhile, the Ugandan government-owned daily newspaper, The New Vision, reported on Monday that a new peace plan for the DRC involving the Rwandan-backed rebel Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie (RCD-Goma) was being developed.
"The new arrangement, which is geared towards the formation of an acceptable interim administration, is in advanced stages," James Wapakhabulo, the Ugandan third deputy prime minister, was quoted by the paper as saying. He said Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni was in touch with his counterparts in Kigali and the DRC capital, Kinshasa, on the new arrangement.
Under the arrangement, Kabila would remain the interim president and have two vice-presidents - one from RCD-Goma and the other from the Mouvement de liberation du Congo of Jean-Pierre Bemba. The new plan would supersede the 19 April accord reached at the conclusion of the inter-Congolese dialogue in Sun City, South Africa, by which Kabila would serve as president and Bemba as his prime minister.
Last week, Museveni briefed Bemba on the new initiative; however, sources told The New Vision that Bemba had not yet accepted it.