United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan's initiative to bring lasting peace, stability and development to the countries of central Africa, several of which have been torn by decades of war, takes a major step forward next week with the first preparatory committee meeting for a regional summit to be held later this year.
Some 150 participants from the seven core countries of the International Conference for the Great Lakes region - Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia - neighbouring States and regional organization will gather in Bujumbura, the Burundian capital, for the week-long meeting, the first of three before the summit.
The International Conference for peace, security, democracy and development in the Great Lakes region was first proposed by Mr. Annan and is being co-sponsored by the UN and the African Union.
The preparatory meetings - the others will be held in Kinshasa, DRC, and Kampala, Uganda - seek to streamline national positions on the summit's four themes: peace and security; democracy and good governance; economic development and regional integration; and humanitarian and social issues.
The summit itself will be held in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania in November in an effort to find a lasting solution to the endemic problems facing a region where several countries are still roiled by violence and tension. Only last month, 160 Congolese ethnic Tutsi refugees were massacred in Burundi, and in July nearly 20,000 people were reported to be in a critical humanitarian state in eastern DRC after fleeing renewed fighting between central government forces and dissident troops around Lake Kivu.