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Tuesday, 26 February, 2002, 10:15 GMT
DR Congo peace talks suspended
Joseph Kabila with South African Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad
The talks were delayed amid scuffles
Talks in South Africa between warring factions from the Democratic Republic of Congo have been suspended for at least 24 hours.

Officials said the delay was intended to sort out problems of representation by opposition political parties.

DR Congo timeline
1998 - Uganda, Rwanda try to topple Laurent Kabila
1998 - Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia prop up Kabila
1999 - Ceasefire signed but violated repeatedly
2001 - Laurent Kabila assassinated, replaced by his son, Joseph
But it follows a private meeting between Congolese President Joseph Kabila and the two main rebel leaders late on Monday.

The talks, aimed at ending more than three years of civil war, got off to a faltering start on Monday, when Jean-Pierre Bemba, refused to attend the opening session.

Mr Bemba's Ugandan-backed Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) claims to control one-third of the country.

No official reason was given for his absence, but Mr Bemba - who is in South Africa - has complained that some of the 55 parties supposedly from the opposition are in fact government stooges.

Members of the Congolese Government, political parties, rebel groups and other leaders are meeting in the resort of Sun City to try to agree on a transitional government that will oversee elections.

Scuffles

On Monday, South African President Thabo Mbeki urged the warring factions to set aside their differences.

"We Africans have to show the world our capacity to solve our problems by peaceful means," he said in his opening address at peace talks in South Africa.

Joseph Kabila with South African Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad
Bemba feels the talks are a waste of time

In the opening ceremony, African leaders implored the Congolese to make peace so that their country could, in President Mbeki's words, become an African giant.

But the ceremony was delayed by several hours because of disputes over who should attend.

Many exiles tried to enter the auditorium and scuffles broke out with police.

A senior official of the EU, which is helping to fund the talks, said there was growing impatience with the Congolese factions and their inability to reach agreement.

Ceasefire broken

The BBC's Southern Africa correspondent, Barnaby Phillips, says that even if progress is eventually made in Sun City, it will not bring peace to the Congo.

Angola, Zimbabwe, Uganda and Rwanda are all deeply involved in the Congolese war and none of them shows any immediate inclination to withdraw their troops.

Joseph Kabila with South African Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad

In the proposed peace deal, Congo's warring factions agreed to take part in talks that would include the formation of a transitional government and elections.

Foreign troops should have been withdrawn by the time the talks began, but only Namibia has complied and fighting has continued.

Mr Mbeki said the talks were crucial for the stability of Congo and the whole of Africa.

"The dialogue is about the future of our continent," he said.

"It answers the question of whether we as Africans have the will and the capacity to pull our continent and our people out of misery, indignity, poverty and underdevelopment."

Shake-up

In a written message to representatives, Mr Kabila said Congo was facing "the most decisive challenge in its history" and urged all sides to be responsible.

An estimated two million people have died as a result of the war, many of them from hunger and disease.

Joseph Kabila with South African Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad
President Kabila has urged all sides to act responsibly

Another two million people have been displaced.

In another development, Mr Kabila has announced a shake-up in the armed forces.

The chief of staff and 18 other senior officers have been retired, and the head of the army has been reportedly arrested.

The United Nations mission in Congo is also entering a new stage.

The first of 400 peacekeepers have arrived in the eastern jungle town of Kindu to start disarming militia groups based in the Congolese forests.

See also:

13 Jan 02 | Africa
Kabila seeks peace at SADC summit
12 Jan 02 | Africa
Zimbabwe looms over SADC meeting
20 Dec 01 | Africa
Death rate soars in DR Congo
12 Aug 01 | Africa
Packed agenda for SADC leaders
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