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The BBC's Mark Dummett
"Belgium Prime Minister's visit is evidence that Congo is no longer a pariah state"
 real 28k

Saturday, 30 June, 2001, 05:58 GMT 06:58 UK
Belgian PM on landmark Congo visit
Meeting between DR Congo President Joseph Kabila and Belgian PM Guy Verhofstadt in February
Kabila has impressed the Belgian leader
The Belgian Prime Minister, Guy Verhofstadt, is visiting the Democratic Republic of Congo as the country marks the 41st anniversary of independence from the former colonial power.

It is the first trip by a Belgian leader to DR Congo since Brussels cut off most links with the former president, Mobutu Sese Seko, in the early 1990s.

President Kabila at United Nations
Kabila has charmed western nations
The Congolese Government says it is evidence that the country is no longer a pariah state.

Mr Verhofstadt, who will be guest of honour at Saturday's Independence Day celebrations, is expected to announce an increase in aid for the beleaguered country, which has been torn apart by war.

Prospects for peace

He is also expected to express his support for Congo's peace process.

International observers believe that since President Joseph Kabila succeeded his assassinated father Laurent in January, prospects for an end to the civil war have increased.

Malnourished seven-year-old child in Congo
Congo has been ravaged by civil war
The visit follows a warming in relations between the two governments.

Belgium slashed most of its economic support for Congo in 1990 following allegations of a state-sponsored massacre of students.

"We come here without arrogance, without paternalism, and even with great humility," Mr Verhofstadt told the French news agency AFP.

"We want to act now because there is a real chance to help, in a constructive way, in the renaissance of the Congo," the Belgian leader said.

Charm offensive

The BBC's correspondent Mark Dummett, in Kinshasa, says the new Congo president has been quick to make friends abroad, charming western governments and investors.

Kinshasa's residents have been circulating pamphlets expressing their desire that the many Belgian businessmen who fled the country will return.

Opposition parties have not been so welcoming. They are complaining that the visit gives credibility to an unelected leader.

Our correspondent says that most of the Belgian aid will only be granted in return for assurances that President Kabila is committed to lasting peace, a national dialogue and democratic elections.

The Belgian delegation is set to meet both the Rwandan-backed Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD) and the political opposition.

It will also travel to the rebel-held city of Kisangani.

DR Congo has been carved up by warring factions, with the government controlling barely half of Africa's third-largest state.

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See also:

03 Feb 01 | Africa
Belgium backs Kabila
26 Jan 01 | Africa
Kabila promises peace efforts
26 Jan 01 | Africa
Joseph Kabila sworn in
22 Jan 01 | Africa
Massacres in eastern Congo
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