Defence ministers of Rwanda and DR Congo are holding talks in the Rwandan capital Kigali, the first such high-level meeting between the two countries in three years.
Defence minister James Kabarebe and his visiting Congolese counterpart Aimé Lusa-Diese Ngoi-Mukena and their respective delegations are discussing bilateral security issues behind closed doors.
At the centre of the talks is the DR Congo-based FDLR militia, composed of elements linked to the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and which has defied multiple UN-backed ultimatums to disarm voluntarily, officials said.
FDLR was created by the remnants of the militia that bear responsibility for the slaughter of more than a million people during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
Its founders crossed over the border to the DR Congo in 1994 as the genocidal machinery lost control of the country, following the takeover of Kigali by the then Paul Kagame-led Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA) rebels.
The Congolese delegation is also keen on the repatriation of the former M23 combatants who have been staying in a camp in eastern Rwanda, having crossed into the country in 2013 as their rebellion against Kinshasa collapsed.
Some of the former M23 rebels have since repatriated voluntarily.
Both Kabarebe and Ngoi-Mukena hailed the bilateral talks during the opening session with the former terming the move as ‘historic’.
“Our countries have an obligation to our citizens, to ensure peace and security as a foundation for development. The UN and other regional actors can only come in to support bilateral efforts. This is an opportunity that should not be missed,” he said.
The Congolese defense minister said the meeting’s main objective was to boost bilateral relations and reassure the peoples of the two countries that the region was firmly on the road back to peace.
“We seek to usher peace in the Great Lakes region,” he said.
The summit is a follow up on a meeting between both countries' military chiefs in June in Kinshasa, DR Congo, and two others held earlier in the year in Kigali, which were attended by Congo's deputy defence minister.
When the M23 rebellion broke out in 2012, Kinshasa accused Rwanda of backing the rebels, a claim which Kigali rejected, before a UN-DR Congo onslaught on rebel positions forced some M23 fighters to cross into Rwanda and Uganda.
Subsequent regional and international efforts required the $1.5 billion-a-year UN force in the Congo, Monusco, to also join forces with Congolese army to launch operations against the FDLR but the UN troops have since stayed away from the operations, leaving only the Congolese army, FARDC, to try to neutralise the militia – albeit with little success.
Rwanda and DR Congo have previously conducted short-lived joint operations against FDLR.