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Sunday, 2 September, 2001, 04:58 GMT 05:58 UK
Annan preaches peace in DR Congo
Soldiers in Kisangani
All foreign fighters should go, says Annan
By Mark Dummett in Kinshasa

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has begun a visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo by urging all foreign armies fighting in the country to withdraw.

Destroyed building
Three years of fighting have left much of DR Congo in ruins
Speaking in the capital, Kinshasa, Mr Annan said he was encouraged by recent moves to find an end to the three-year Congolese war.

He also had positive words to say about talks held just over a week ago by Congo's warring factions and urged them to build on the trust and mutual respect that he said they had shown.

After holding talks with President Joseph Kabila, Mr Annan will fly to the disputed city of Kisangani on Monday and then to the Rwandan capital, Kigali.

Glimmer of hope

Mr Annan is the latest in a long line of high-profile visitors to have come to Kinshasa, since the country's peace process started in earnest earlier in the year.

Monuc soldiers in DR Congo
Many Congolese think that too few UN troops were sent
He might be the most senior so far but he has come with a similar message to the heads of state, government ministers and UN officials who preceded him.

But there is at last a glimmer of hope in one of Africa's most desperate countries.

In words that will please the Kinshasa government, which has been fighting Rwandan and Ugandan-backed rebellions for three years, Mr Annan stressed that national sovereignty must be restored.

None of these things haven't been said before but the three-day visit is being greeted in the DR Congo as a welcome gesture of good faith.

Talk and tour

Whilst in the capital, the secretary general will hold talks with President Kabila, the political opposition and UN peacekeepers monitoring a seven-month old ceasefire.

Then he flies to Kisangani, a city in the north-east of DR Congo which has been fought over for control three times by the once allied, now rival, Ugandan and Rwandan armies.

For that reason it has become a powerful symbol in Congo for the destruction the two rebellions have caused, even more so since the Rwandan-backed rebel soldiers who garrison the city refuse to withdraw in spite of UN Security Council resolutions.

This led many Congolese people to say that the UN is happy to issue statements but not to commit themselves to action.

They also say the world body was late in getting involved in the war and then when it went in it sent too few peacekeepers.

These are all charges Kofi Annan will no doubt try to answer during his visit.

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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