The Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and Rwanda, the three neighboring countries suffering rebel-induced tensions for years, are bracing for a new era of cooperation after joint operations to uproot the long-standing cause of mutual hostilities.
Congolese President Joseph Kabila announced on Sunday that "the Ugandan army will pull back" by the end of the month. The joint operation, which began on Dec. 14, has neutralized at least 80 percent of the Ugandan rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), officials said.
The pullout will mark a new beginning of bilateral ties since the two countries severed the diplomatic contact in the 1990s, amid mutual accusations of support of each other's rebels.
Kabila declared "relations with Uganda will improve in the coming days." He met his Ugandan counterpart Yoweri Museveni in DR Congo's border area of Kasindi on Wednesday, when both leaders decided to effectively exchange their ambassadors as a token of normalization of ties.
Relations to be improved will not only benefit both countries politically, but economically, according to the Congolese president.
An immediate result, officials said, will be the transmission of electricity from Uganda to DR Congo's border towns, including Beni, Butembo and Lubero.
The power supply is part of the deal signed by both leaders, under which they also vowed to cooperate in exploiting oil in the Lake Albert region across the common border.
The anti-insurgency diplomacy also improves neighborhood between DR Congo and Rwanda, which already withdrew its troops on Feb. 25.
The Congolese-Rwandan operation has not only knocked out the major threat to Kinshasa, the National Council for the Defense of the People (CNDP) led by renegade Tutsi general Laurent Nkunda, but 90 percent of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) in North Kivu Province.
FDLR elements, who are held responsible for the 1994 massacre in Rwanda, have been a root cause of DR Congo's international conflicts and external tensions with Rwanda.
Developments after the joint operation, which was launched on Jan. 20, prove positive for both countries, with the Congolese government announcing this month that it has repatriated 3,670 Rwandan refugees on the voluntary basis since January.
Analysts believe that the return of Rwandan refugees demonstrates both countries' confidence in mutual trust and common security. The continued repatriation is seen as an important step to further isolate FDLR remnants, whose commander Ignace Murwanashyaka began to seek negotiations last month.
Before the launch of the joint operation, Congolese Foreign Minister Alexis Thambe Mwamba met with his Rwandan counterpart Rosemary Museminali in Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu, saying both countries were willing to exchange embassies. Hostilities led to the break of their diplomatic ties in the 1990s.
The joint operation was hailed by both the United Nations and the African Union, which only months ago were seriously worried about another Congo war, as Nkunda vowed to topple Kabila's government in advances in North Kivu.
The 1998-2003 Congo war sucked in several countries in the Great Lakes region, including Angola, Zimbabwe, Rwanda and Uganda. More than 5 million people died in the bloodshed.
With war concerns gone, DR Congo and the international community are shifting their attention to refugees primarily in North Kivu, where an estimated 250,000 people were displaced in CNDP advances to add to 800,000 left in previous conflicts.