UN envoy for Great Lakes region voices optimism despite challenges

 The United Nations (UN) envoy for the Great Lakes region, Xia Huang, on Wednesday voiced optimism, citing events in the past year with positive implications for the region.

The positive developments include efforts to stabilise the governing coalition following the peaceful political transition in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), progress achieved to normalise relations between Uganda and Rwanda, the formation of a unity government in South Sudan, and the diplomatic settlement of a border dispute between the DRC and Zambia, he told the Security Council in a virtual briefing. 

Progress has also been made in the fight against armed groups operating in eastern DRC, said Xia.

At the initiative of the DRC government, there have been efforts to increase coordination and exchange of information between the armed forces of the DRC, Burundi, Uganda and Rwanda, in order to optimise military operations against armed groups, he said. There has also been progress in the area of regional integration. 

On December 3, 2019, Burundi, the DRC and Tanzania signed an agreement to build a railway connecting the three countries to boost trade in the region. 

The next Great Lakes Investment and Trade Conference will also be an opportunity to promote trade and to stimulate the enormous economic potential of the region, he said.

Despite the progress, challenges remain, he cautioned. The greatest challenge is undoubtedly the activities by armed groups, including in the illicit exploitation of natural resources, which diminishes trust among countries of the region. 

The resulting insecurity caused by armed groups, especially in eastern DRC where civilians continue to pay the highest price, also fuels the humanitarian crisis in the region, said Xia. 

“I urge all armed groups to immediately cease their acts of violence against civilians, refrain from blocking humanitarian access, and to engage resolutely in the existing disarmament, demobilisation, repatriation, reintegration and resettlement programs.” 

He appealed to the governments of the region to heed UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ call on March 23 for a global cease-fire.

The challenges facing the Great Lakes region are exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the protracted Ebola epidemic, said Xia.

The number of COVID-19 cases in the Great Lakes region is growing, albeit at a moderate rate compared to other regions in the world. -Xinhua

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