26 September 2003





NEW YORK, 25 September (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the opening statement delivered today by Secretary-General Kofi Annan at the high-level meeting on the Democratic Republic of the Congo:



I am glad to see you all here today. I take your presence as a sign of your strong desire to achieve lasting peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.


The Congolese people have endured one of the bloodiest conflicts in modern history, a conflict in which the entire region has been involved. Millions have been killed or brutalized. In parts of the country, millions still live a precarious existence.


And yet there is today real hope in the DRC and in the Great Lakes region. That hope springs from the substantial progress that has been made in the past year.


The warring parties have solemnly signed comprehensive peace agreements.


And a Government of National Unity and Transition is now in place in Kinshasa.


We have only come this far through the tireless efforts of many.


Most important have been the sustained efforts of the Congolese themselves. I commend President Kabila and the four Vice-Presidents for their courageous efforts to further peace in their country.


I salute the efforts of the African Union, and particularly the leadership of the Government of Mozambique.


I am thankful to President Mbeki for the personal interest he has taken, and the genuine efforts he and his Government have made to help bring peace to the DRC.


I welcome the efforts of the Governments of Uganda and Rwanda to move closer to each other, and their positive contributions to the peace process in the DRC.


I also want to thank the Government of Tanzania for its efforts in support of the peace processes in the region.


And I am grateful for the intervention of the French-led EU force in Bunia, in response to the mass killing and human rights violations that shocked the world. That action saved thousands of civilian lives. I wish action had come earlier. But I am truly glad that it came.


Much has been achieved. But the job is not done. It is not even close to done. Enormous challenges lie ahead.


In meeting those challenges, I hope you will be guided by certain common principles. There should be no overt or covert interference in each other’s affairs. All States in the region must respect one another’s sovereignty. All support for armed groups must end. There must be no illegal exploitation of the natural resources of the DRC. Transparent, good-neighbourly relations must be established. There must be respect for civilians and for the human rights of all citizens.


These principles must guide concrete political action in support of the peace process.


As you know, the United Nations operation –- MONUC –- is mandated to assist the Transitional Government in tackling its urgent priorities: disarming and demobilizing armed groups, planning for national elections in two years’ time, and providing training and assistance in the rule of law sector.


MONUC needs your full backing, and the strong support of the international community. It faces challenges on a massive scale in an enormous country. Its resources are modest in comparison. We must be wary of arousing unrealistic expectations.


The Transitional Government also needs your full support, as well as the support of your fellow African leaders and the entire international community. Its task is daunting. The Transitional Government must deliver a peace dividend to a long-suffering people. Schools must be reopened, roads must be reconstructed, communications must be restored, a war-torn society must be rebuilt. The writ of a broad-based government must be established.


This is a particular challenge in the eastern part of the country, where conflict continues to simmer. The Transitional Government needs to be able to extend and consolidate its authority throughout the entire country, including in Ituri and the Kivus.


This requires all the parties to the Pretoria and Luanda agreements –- as well as non-signatories -– to adhere fully to the letter and spirit of those agreements. Real peace will only be achieved if former foes, who are now colleagues in the Government, collaborate with MONUC, and with each other. They have taken bold steps towards national reconciliation. They must stay the course. They must put aside past rivalries, and work together to restore their nation and deliver a brighter future to their countrymen.


Real peace also requires all outsiders to cut off support to armed groups and terminate the flow of weapons. We must move ahead with the full disarmament, demobilization, repatriation, reintegration, or resettlement of armed groups –- both Congolese and foreign.


Let me say a word to the representatives of the DRC, Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda.


Excellencies, it is far too early to declare success. A lot more needs to happen before lasting peace is secured.


I encourage you to work towards the resumption of full bilateral and multilateral relations.


I also encourage you to take a range of confidence-building steps –- including re-opening diplomatic missions in each other’s capitals, developing trade and commercial links, establishing bilateral bodies, resolving the issue of refugees, and normalising border controls. MONUC is ready to work with you in developing joint border mechanisms.


And let me say to all of you who are here today that the issues that have plagued the conflict in the DRC can only be fully addressed in a regional framework. To this end, I support the idea of an International Conference on the Great Lakes.


Today, there is a chance to bring lasting peace to the DRC and to the Great Lakes, and to deliver a better future in peace and security to people who have truly suffered enough. We must seize that chance. I count on the commitment of all of you to ensure that we do.



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