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Erna van Goor, Medecins sans Frontieres
"The war has made it very difficult to reach people in need"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 19 June, 2001, 21:56 GMT 22:56 UK
Boat completes historic Congo trip
Fishermen on the river Congo
The river used to be a vital economic link
A UN barge has reached the eastern Congolese city of Kisangani in a voyage which marked the reopening of the Congo river, one of Africa's most important trade routes.

Crowds lined the rivers' banks to welcome the boat, which has taken 12 days to reach the rebel-held city.

We are so happy to see this boat. It is a sign of hope for us that the river may be reopened to all traffic soon

Kisangani police office
It is the first recorded journey to cross between government- and rebel-held territory since the route became impassable almost three years ago because of the war.

Aid agencies hope the reopening of the river will mean more food gets through to areas like the capital Kinshasa, where war has left many people going hungry.

Signs of hope

The barge's journey, which was agreed to by both warring sides, also lifted hopes of further moves towards peace.

The fuel barge left the government-controlled city of Mbandaka, about one-third the way from Kinshasa to Kisangani, on June 7.

Boats have regularly travelled sections of the river, but the UN barge was the first to openly cross from one side of the country to the other.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

"We are so happy to see this boat. It is a sign of hope for us that the river may be reopened to all traffic soon," a local policeman told Reuters news agency.

Civilian traffic on the river will resume once the UN is sure the route is navigable and safe. Aid workers hope to send a "Peace Boat" on the river in July.

The Congo River, Africa's largest after the Nile, was cut by fighting and armed checkpoints when war broke out in 1998.

Foreign armies

The barge was arranged as part of plans towards ending the war, in which six foreign armies have been involved.

Fighting started when Rwanda, Uganda and Congolese rebel groups joined forces to oust Congo President Laurent Kabila.

Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia took the government's side

Peace efforts have accelerated since Mr Kabila's assassination in January. Both sides pledged not to interfere with the return of civilian barges and boats to the river.

The UN force in the Congo has made the resumption of river traffic a key goal to lift the country's ravaged economy.

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See also:

30 May 01 | Africa
UN optimistic over Congo
20 Apr 01 | Africa
Congo rebels allow UN to deploy
28 Feb 01 | Africa
Troops withdraw from DR Congo
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