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Saturday, 20 July, 2002, 15:42 GMT 16:42 UK
Congo river reopens to trade
Nine huge barges leave Kinshasa to travel up the Congo river
Hopes are high for a full resumption of commerce

A convoy of commercial boats has left Kinshasa bound for rebel-held eastern provinces for the first time since the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo began four years ago.

The war has divided the country into several rival territories and cut vital trade routes.
Riverside send-off in Kinshasa
Equipment, oil and spare parts are among the cargo

But the government and one of the rebel factions say their recent peace deal allows the resumption of trade.

Nine huge barges left Kinshasa's port on the Congo to make the long journey upstream across the front-line and into rebel-held territory.

There have already been several convoys carrying humanitarian supplies in the past year but these boats are the first commercial ones.

Open river

They are carrying fuel and other essential goods to the towns of Bumba and Lisala in Equateur Province, which is held by the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC).

The rebels of the Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD) also hold large swathes of land in the east.

In two weeks' time the boats will be returning with more than 5,000 tons of timber for the sawmills of Kinshasa.

The Congolese chamber of commerce hopes this first convoy will be followed by the full resumption of river trade between government and MLC territories.

In April, the two sides signed a power-sharing deal.

They continue to squabble over its terms, but both say the river is now open.

The blocked trade routes resulting from DR Congo's four-year war have had a disastrous effect on the economy.

The conflict has destroyed businesses and pushed most of Congo's already impoverished people into a daily struggle to find food.


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17 Jul 02 | Africa
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