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The BBC's Mark Dummett
"The Belgian prime minister's visit is evidence that Congo is no longer a pariah state"
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Saturday, 30 June, 2001, 23:50 GMT 00:50 UK
Belgium resumes DR Congo aid
Congolese rebel troops mark DR Congo's 41 years of independence
Congolese rebels put on a show of force in Goma
Belgium is to resume aid donations to its former colony, the Democratic Republic of Congo, after a gap of more than 10 years.

We want to convince Europe and the international community to accompany our determination to rebuild a generous and just state

Belgian PM Guy Verhofstadt
The Belgian Prime Minister, Guy Verhofstadt, made the announcement in the Congolese capital Kinshasa, as the country marked its 41st independence anniversary.

Mr Verhofstadt said the aid - for health care and infrastructure projects - marked a new era of co-operation between the two countries.

He said DR Congo would have to improve its human rights record, and that only democracy would end the country's three-year-old civil war.

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

The Congolese President, Joseph Kabila, said he hoped the Belgian delegation's visit would bring about an end to Congo's international isolation.

Close co-operation

Mr Verhofstadt said Belgium would use its presidency of the European Union, which starts on Sunday, to help find a lasting end to the war in Congo.

His government agreed to provide some $16.5m of aid, he said, and it would lobby for relief on Congo's $13bn debt.

Malnourished seven-year-old child in Congo
Congo has been ravaged by civil war
Mr Verhofstadt's trip is the first by a Belgian leader to Kinshasa since Belgium slashed most of its economic support for Congo in 1990, following allegations of a state-sponsored massacre of students in the southern city of Lubumbashi.

Congolese opposition parties stayed away from the celebrations, saying the Belgian delegation's visit was premature and gave credibility to the unelected Kabila government.

But most of Kinshasa's residents disagree and have high expectations of what the Belgian Government and its companies can bring to their impoverished country, the BBC's correspondent Mark Dummett says.

Kinshasa's celebrations were largely a traditional affair.

For two hours, immaculately dressed military units, marching bands and flag-waving civil servants trooped past President Kabila, his government and invited dignitaries, our correspondent says.

Search for peace

The visit follows a warming in relations between the two governments.

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.

Our correspondent says the new Congo president has been quick to make friends abroad, charming western governments and investors.

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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
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