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Thursday, 2 August, 2001, 12:28 GMT 13:28 UK
Fighting mars Congo anniversary
Rebel troops
The latest fighting is not a cease-fire violation
Reports of fierce fighting for a town in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have tarnished hopes for peace on the third anniversary of war breaking out.

Rwandan-backed rebels of the Congolese Rally for Democracy say they have taken the town of Lokandu from militias backed by government forces.

Rebel spokesman, Kin-Kiey Mulumba said: "After two days of fierce fighting, the RCD forces routed the enemy."

Since Joseph Kabila replaced his father Laurent as president in February, there has been some progress in implementing a 1998 ceasefire agreement.

Rwandan, Ugandan and Zimbabwean troops have all pulled back from their positions and the United Nations has deployed 500 military observers backed up by 2,500 armed soldiers.

This fighting is not technically a violation of the cease-fire as the Mai-Mai and Interahamwe militias, which reportedly took control of Lokandu from the RCD two weeks ago, did not sign the Lusaka accord.

The Mai-Mai are a hybrid of local groups who have repeatedly switched allegiance in the war, while the Interahamwe are ethnic Hutus held responsible for the 1994 Rwandan genocide of 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

However it illustrates that despite the recent optimism, life is still precarious for many inhabitants of Africa's third largest country.

Millions dead

Aid agencies believe that between one and three million have lost their lives in the DR Congo war, either directly or because they have starved to death as the fighting has prevented them from planting or harvesting their crops.

Congo is potentially an enormously wealthy country, with diamonds, other lucrative minerals underneath its fertile soil.

Joseph Kabila
Joseph Kabila has restored hope to the peace process
The RCD blame the government of Joseph Kabila and his allies from Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe for training and equipping the Mai-Mai and the Interahamwe.

While Rwanda has reduced its presence in DR Congo, it remains concerned about the continued activities of the Interahamwe, which still launches attacks on Rwanda seven years after being driven across the border by forces loyal to President Paul Kagame.

Rwanda maintains that it only sent troops into the DR Congo in order to stop these cross-border raids and refuses to withdraw completely until the Interahamwe are disarmed.

Uganda also justifies its invasion by saying it was chasing rebels based in the DR Congo.

A recent report from the United Nations counters that both Rwanda and Uganda are prolonging their stay in the DR Congo, partly to exploit its rich natural resources.

Alongside the ceasefire, the various Congolese factions are supposed to negotiate a political settlement, leading to a transitional government and - eventually - elections.

See also:

25 Jul 01 | Africa
Interahamwe: A spent force?
04 Jul 01 | Africa
Kabila in peace talks
30 Jun 01 | Africa
Belgium resumes DR Congo aid
26 Jan 01 | Africa
Kabila promises peace efforts
21 Jun 01 | Africa
In pictures: Historic Congo trip
01 Aug 01 | Africa
Historic aid boat leaves Kinshasa
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