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Wednesday, 6 December, 2000, 14:55 GMT
DR Congo deal signed
MLC leader, Jean-Pierre Bemba and his soldiers
MLC rebel group refuse to sign withdrawal deal
Defence chiefs from six African countries and rebel groups have signed an agreement to begin withdrawing troops later this month from front-line positions in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

But one rebel group, the Ugandan-backed Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) did not sign the agreement saying it did not focus enough on fostering political dialogue within the Congo.

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, who has deployed nearly 10,000 troops in the DR Congo, urged the warring parties to co-operate in pulling their forces back at least 15 km (nine miles).

The withdrawal is to allow the deployment of UN observers who will monitor a ceasefire signed last year which has frequently been violated.

But even as the agreement was being signed in Harare, there were reports of fierce fighting in the southeastern town of Pweto forcing Zimbabwean troops to flee.

Zimbabwe together with Angola and Namibia back the embattled government of President Laurent Kabila against rebel groups separately supported by Rwanda and Uganda.

Cessation of hostilities

Mr Mugabe called on the United Nations to quickly deploy monitors to observe the partial withdrawal.

The UN currently has 100 military observers in the Congo.

DRC President Laurent Kabila in Lusaka Zambia, in 1999
Fighting continues despite a ceasefire agreement signed last year
"Let today be a day of renewal of our common determination, commitment and resolve to ensure that peace wins," Mr Mugabe said at the signing ceremony.

"The implementation (of the agreement) should lead to the achievement of a rapid and total cessation of hostilities throughout the DR Congo," he added.

The agreement is expected to take effect from 15 December and be completed within 45 days.

MLC national secretary Valentin Jenga said that disengagement without dialogue would mean the partition of the country.

The Zimbabwean defence ministry confirmed on Tuesday night that "serious fighting" had broken out in Pweto, forcing Zimbabwean troops to make what it called a "tactical withdrawal".

Reports said up to 300 Zimbabwean and 1,000 Congolese soldiers were among hundreds of refugees who had fled into Zambia due to the fighting.

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See also:

16 Oct 00 | Africa
New push for Congo peace
23 Aug 00 | Africa
Kabila rejects Lusaka accord
30 Jun 00 | Africa
Timeline: DR Congo conflict
30 Jun 00 | Africa
Congo's unhappy birthday
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