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Wednesday, 21 February, 2001, 18:13 GMT
Congo troops pull back call
DR Congo President Joseph Kabila
Joseph Kabila's new approach has revived peace hopes
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has called on the warring sides in the Democratic Republic of Congo to build on recent political and military progress and set a new date for disengagement.

Mr Annan was speaking to foreign ministers from the region and rebel leaders gathered for several days of meetings at UN headquarters.

Mr Annan said much had changed for the better and and praised Congo's new President, Joseph Kabila, for re-starting a dialogue with his opponents.

A BBC correspondent says after months of gloom over Congo, there is an upbeat mood.

However, Zimbabwe criticised UN plans to cut the number of troops it intends to send as ceasefire monitors - from 5,500 to under 2,000.

Pull back

There are about 50,000 foreign troops from African countries in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia backing the shaky government. Rwanda and Uganda, which support the rebels, have just announced the pull-back of some troops, a move also welcomed by Mr Annan.

Rwanda said it would unilaterally pull all its troops back 200km from current positions, starting at midnight on 28 February as a goodwill gesture which it hoped the Congolese Government would imitate.

Uganda said on Tuesday it would withdraw 1,000 of its forces from Congo.

New spirit

Cautious optimism has emerged since last month's assassination of Congo President Laurent Kabila.

President Robert Mugabe
President Mugabe has sent about 11,000 troops to DR Congo
Earlier, Mr Annan said he believed there was a new spirit among the protagonists: especially crucial was the decision of the new leader, Joseph Kabila, to reverse his father's refusal to deal with the former Botswana President Ketumile Masire.

He was appointed by the Organisation of African Unity to promote political dialogue between the various Congolese factions.

Sir Ketumile said, in The New York Times, that he wanted to set up four committees to deal respectively with the constitution, the military, elections and the humanitarian situation.

Even if foreign forces do withdraw from the country, it will be an enormous task to fashion a functioning government with any real control of the Congo's vast territory.

Fighting over its rich natural resources has brought it to the brink of disintegration.

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26 Jan 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Democratic Republic of Congo
21 Feb 01 | Africa
UN finds Congo child soldiers
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