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Monday, 20 August, 2001, 10:23 GMT 11:23 UK
DR Congo moves to seal peace
DR Congo rebel soldiers
The talks hope to solve three years of fighting
By Mark Dummett in Kinshasa

Talks aimed at bringing peace to the Democratic Republic of Congo get under way in the Botswanan capital, Gaborone, on Monday.

For the first time since the war in Congo broke out three years ago, representatives of the government, the rebel movement, opposition parties and civil society groups will be meeting to find a lasting solution to the conflict.

The talks follow the deployment in recent months of UN peacekeepers who are helping monitor a ceasefire between the warring parties.

Sir Ketumile Masire
Masire has done well to get all sides to attend
The hope is that these talks mark an end to fighting and a start of real dialogue between the Democratic Republic of Congo's rival military, political and civil leaders.

That might be wishful thinking - but more than 100 of them will at least be sitting around the same table on Monday, chaired by former Botswanan premier, Sir Ketumile Masire.

Important step

They represent the government, the three rebel movements backed by either Rwanda or Uganda, the Kinshasa-based opposition political parties, the churches and civil associations.

The fact that they will all be there is being hailed as an important step on the road to peace in Congo.

But this is only the first round of talks.

Up for discussion will be the agenda, the timing and the venue of the next and decisive round, meant to draw up a lasting solution to the brutal, three-year-long war.

That is supposed to include first a national government and then democratic elections.

Critics

No one doubts Sir Ketumile's achievement in first getting the many sides to agree on who should represent who and then getting them all to go to Botswana, but the dialogue is not without its critics.

First are those excluded, from women's groups to exiled former generals, and then there are those who question the sincerity of the many foreign countries involved in the war.

Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi back the rebels, and Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia support the government.

All have a stake in what happens next, but they are not at the talks.

See also:

17 Jul 01 | Africa
UN praises Congo advances
04 Jul 01 | Africa
Kabila in peace talks
26 Jan 01 | Africa
Kabila promises peace efforts
24 Jul 01 | Africa
Congo rejects UN co-ordinator
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