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Monday, 20 August, 2001, 17:18 GMT 18:18 UK
DR Congo peace talks begin
Festus Mogae, Joseph Kabila and Sir Ketumile Masire
Mogae, Kabila and Masire point the way to peace
By Mark Dummett in Gaborone

Talks aimed at finding a lasting peace settlement for the Democratic Republic of Congo have opened in Botswana's capital Gaborone.

For the first time since war broke out in DR Congo three years ago, the warring parties will be discussing the country's future with opposition political parties and representatives of civil society.

The MLC's Olivier Kamitatu
The Movement for the Liberation of Congo controls one third of DR Congo
DR Congo's warring parties first agreed to hold talks known as the inter-Congolese dialogue back in August 1999.

The fact they have been delayed so long by the ongoing conflict marks this meeting out as an important milestone on the road to peace.

Groundwork

This is not the dialogue proper, but a week of technical discussion laying the groundwork for what will follow and which should eventually lead to a new constitution and national elections in DR Congo.

Child on Kamina Island near Kinshasa
The war has caused a humanitarian disaster

But the fact that the Kinshasa government, the leadership of three rebel movements and representatives of opposition parties and of civil society are now sitting in the same room and discussing the shared future of their country, is an important breakthrough.

The opening ceremony was addressed by the Botswana President Festus Mogae, the Zambian President Frederick Chiluba in his role as peace mediator, and finally by former Botswana President Sir Ketumile Masire, who is facilitating the talks.

Sticking point

All spoke on the same theme: that DR Congo's future, be it peaceful and prosperous or divided and impoverished, is in the hands of the dialogue's participants.

The RCD's Olivier Kamitatu
Opposing rebel factions could not agree on seating positions
That might not exactly be true. None of the countries whose armies are supporting either the rebels or the government are in Gaborone.

And there remains a gulf in trust and understanding between the main parties.

Monday's seating arrangements, which placed one rebel group behind the other, was the first sticking point of the dialogue.

The first, perhaps, of many.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Mark Dummett reports from Gaborone
"Everyone was ready to negotiate"
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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