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Wednesday, 23 January, 2002, 15:22 GMT
Analysis: Congo peace remains elusive
Congolese rebel soldier armed with grenade launcher
The latest conflict in Congo broke out in 1998
By BBC diplomatic correspondent Bridget Kendall in Kampala

UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine have been meeting President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda on the last stage of their joint peace mission to Central Africa.

As on the previous stops in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda, the main subject of their talks was the conflict in DR Congo.

They were expected to press President Museveni on the recent increase of Ugandan troops occupying north-eastern Congo and allegations of involvement in plundering national resources there, and urge the need for a speedy withdrawal.

During their stay in Kampala, they also met Jean-Pierre Bemba, leader of the main Ugandan-backed rebel group in Congo.

Despite a series of frank discussions with leaders in the region, there has been little sign that this Franco-British mission has achieved any breakthrough.

However, both British and French officials remain optimistic that they are laying the groundwork for progress.

'Symbolic show of unity'

In an interview with the BBC, Mr Vedrine said that France's aim on this joint trip had been two-fold.

UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw with aid workers on Rwandan side of the border
Aid is being organised for Goma victims over the border in Rwanda
One was to present a united front to the main parties involved in Congo, to show them they could no longer play off the two former colonial powers in the region.

In time, the hope was the Congo Government, Rwanda and Uganda would realise there was little option but to bow to this outside pressure and act simultaneously to disarm and withdraw forces, and talk seriously about the next peace moves.

But the second French aim was to take British and French co-operation in Africa a step further.

To try and tackle Africa's biggest and most dangerous war, it was a chance to show that when acting together the two countries could have a greater impact.

New departure

In the French view, this was a lesson not just for Africa but could provide a possible way forward for the European Union.

Trying to create a common European position on foreign policy was all but impossible when there were the views of 15 countries to consider, said Mr Vedrine.

Such trips could help create a new way of doing things.

There is little doubt Mr Straw supports the idea of closer collaboration with the French, even though the British seem less enthusiastic about the idea this might lay a blueprint for European foreign policy.

Double act

It seems the two ministers had agreed in their joint audiences with African leaders of the past three days to work in tandem.

If in Congo - France's traditional ally - the French delegation was to take a tougher line; in Rwanda, where Britain's ties are stronger, Mr Straw was apparently the one to push hardest.

Whether this double act really will bear fruit will probably take some time to tell.

The two ministers return to Europe with little concrete progress to show but apparently convinced that their symbolic show of unity was an important new departure in this part of Africa.

See also:

22 Jan 02 | Europe
Analysis: Allies in Africa
07 Sep 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Democratic Republic of Congo
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