21 May 2003


(Delayed for translation of text, originally delivered in French.)

NEW YORK, 20 May (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the message by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the nineteenth ministerial meeting of the United Nations Standing Advisory Committee on Security Questions in Central Africa, delivered by General Lamine Cissé, Representative of the Secretary-General in the Central African Republic, in Brazzaville, on 16 May:

It is a pleasure to address this meeting. I would like to convey my warm greetings to all of you and my sincere thanks to the Congolese Government and people for hosting this meeting in your capital.

The United Nations Standing Advisory Committee on Security Questions in Central Africa last year celebrated its tenth anniversary. The efforts of its members have led to notable progress in these 10 years. Central Africa has adopted a number of legal and institutional instruments designed to promote peace and security in the subregion. Nevertheless, lasting peace and security are still slow in arriving. Several countries have been torn for years by recurring crises. Endless fighting involving government troops, rebel forces and other armed groups regularly plunges populations into mourning, causing poverty, destruction and new waves of refugees and displaced persons. Coups and attempts to take power by unconstitutional means continue to occur on a regular basis, and the humanitarian situation is steadily deteriorating.

Of course, there have been positive developments. After years of harsh ordeals, the people of the Republic of the Congo have found the courage and the will to make a firm commitment to the path of peace and national reconciliation. The Angolan people have also opened a new page in their history, and their daughters and sons, now reconciled, are working together to rebuild the country. The favourable outcome of the inter-Congolese dialogue and the start of the transition period in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have raised well-founded hopes of a return to stability in that country. The peaceful transition in Burundi on 1 May between Presidents Pierre Buyoya and Domitien Ndayizeye holds out the same hopes.

These processes, however, remain fragile. The signing of ceasefire or peace agreements is clearly not enough. The difficulties encountered in the peace process in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, particularly the recent tragic events in Bunia, and the numerous violations of the ceasefire agreements in Burundi, are evidence of this. The parties must honour their commitments and strive to implement in good faith the agreements they have signed. They must have the courage to place the interests of the peoples above personal interests. In order for this to happen, leaders must truly choose the path of dialogue, reconciliation and democracy. They must wage a determined fight against human rights violations and at all times ensure that civilians -- particularly women and children -- are afforded the protection they have a right to expect.

* *** *