Ruberwa calls for joint security programme

The governments of Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) should establish a joint security programme to check the movement of "negative" forces in the region, Azarias Ruberwa, one of the DRC's four vice-presidents, said in the Burundian capital, Bujumbura, on Thursday.

Ruberwa was one a one-day visit to discuss with Burundian officials the security situation on the common border.

He said the presence of armed groups from Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda called for a common security strategy to limit the movement of "negative forces" in the region, notably the Rwandan Interahamwe militias, "who are a concern for us all".

Ruberwa also delivered a message from DRC President Joseph Kabila to his Burundian counterpart Domitien Ndayizeye, on the possibility of adopting a joint security programme, "because beyond what can come out of the [UN-AU planned international] conference on security in the Great Lakes, this is what we can do now".

He called for the setting up of "bilateral and even tripartite cooperation between the three concerned countries: Rwanda Burundi and the DRC".

Ruberwa's visit follows a decision by the Burundian government to deploy troops to the Rusizi river, on the border with the DRC, to prevent Interahamwe militias and former Rwandan army soldiers from crossing into Burundi.

The government of Burundi and Rwanda have in the past expressed fear that rebels had used Burundian territory to attack Rwanda.

In April, Rwandan President Paul Kagame threatened that his troops would re-enter the DRC if the UN Mission in the Congo (MONUC) and the DRC government failed to disarm the Interahamwe and the former Rwandan army soldiers.

The Interahamwe militiamen, believed to have been largely responsible for Rwanda's 1994 genocide, fled the country soon after the killings and set up base in eastern DRC. They have also been accused of a number of human rights violations in the region.

Apart from the talks on the security situation on the common border, Ruberwa's visit was also aimed at exploring the possibility of reopening the Burundian embassy in the DRC capital, Kinshasa, which was closed after forces loyal to the late DRC president, Laurent Désiré Kabila, entered Kinshasa in the late 1990s.

Ruberwa left Bujumbura a few hours earlier than expected, following reports of fighting between rival DRC army units in the eastern DRC town of Bukavu. The fighting broke out on Wednesday, and involved a unit that was formerly loyal to the rebel movement Ruberwa led before he joined the transitional government in June 2003.