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Monday, 21 October, 2002, 09:49 GMT 10:49 UK
DR Congo's road to peace

The power-sharing agreement between the Democratic Republic of Congo and the two main Congolese rebel groups maps out the road to peace and democratic elections.

But that road is likely to be a tortuous one, strewn with obstacles.

An interim government will be set up run by President Joseph Kabila but with four vice presidents appointed from the Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD) and Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) rebels, the government and civilian opposition groups.

Ministerial portfolios will also be distributed among the signatories to the deal.

The interim government will rule for two years in the run up to national elections.

During that time rebels will be integrated into the army and the police - though no time table has been established for this.

It could be a very tricky and potentially violent two years.

Not only have the main rebel groups got to switch from years of mainly military activity to government and political tasks, but a wide variety of smaller factions and ethnic militias have been part of the conflict and could undermine it through local disputes.

And up until two months ago, DR Congo was a battleground for foreign armies with competing interests and alliances.

Troops out

Most of the foreign troops who have been fighting in DR Congo over the past four years have now pulled out.

All the Rwandan troops had left the country early by October and more than 15,000 troops from Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Uganda and Burundi left DR Congo in the following weeks.

At the height of the civil war, there were well over 50,000 troops from seven different African states fighting in Congo along with the Congolese army and numerous rebel factions and tribal militias.

Congolese children
Civilians have been the main victims of the war

But the withdrawal of foreign armies does not mean that their influence over or links with their former allies have disappeared.

Uganda backed the MLC; Rwanda supported the RCD; Angola, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Chad supported the government and Burundi had troops in the country to fight Hutu rebels from Burundi.

In the week before the peace deal, the DR Congo government accused Libya of militarily supporting the MLC, which the rebel group denied.

The foreign parties to the conflict will be keen to see that their allies do not lose out through the peace so it is unlikely that foreign interference has stopped for good, it is just going to have a different profile.

It is hardly surprising that with this complex range of alliances that the Congo conflict was grimly christened "Africa's first world war".

No military solutions

The victims of the free for all fighting were the Congolese people, who died in their thousands or became refugees in their own land.

A UN investigation of the role of the foreign forces also revealed the systematic plunder of Congolese natural resources, particularly diamonds.

The withdrawal of the foreign forces helped pave the way for the December deal in Pretoria, as did heavy South African and international pressure on the main parties involved.

What also helped secure a deal was that the war and the endless shifting of alliances brought none of the participants any nearer to a military or political solution to Congo's problems or their own security concerns.

Rebels come on board

The moves to peace started after the the assassination of the Congolese president, Laurent Kabila, in January 2001 and pressure from South Africa led to a halting but eventually productive peace process.

Rwandan soldiers
Departing Rwandans could leave a vacuum

An initial series of peace bids involving the government and the rebels of the Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD) and the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) brought little progress.

In April this year, the MLC reached agreement with the government at the Inter-Congolese Dialogue in South Africa - the RCD did not sign up.

But the July agreement between DR Congo and Rwanda under which the Congolese government, with UN support, was to find, disarm and repatriate Rwandan Hutu rebels and Rwanda agreed to withdraw its forces, started a process that led to the withdrawal of all foreign forces.

This was a start but there was little optimism at the time that the fighting between competing factions would stop.

In the short-term, this view appeared to be correct with upsurges of fighting in RCD areas involving the pro-government Mai Mai local militia.

But the resumption of talks, again under South African auspices, between the government and its allies, the RCD and the MLC have now brought an agreement that includes the main rebels and the Mai Mai.

What is not clear, is whether it will be able to bring in the Banyamulenge (Congolese Tutsis), breakaway RCD factions in the north and warring ethnic groups such as the Lendu and Hema.

Faction fights

In northern and north-eastern Congo there has been conflict between the MLC and breakaway factions of the RCD.

This situation is further complicated by fighting between the Hema and the Lendu groups over land.

The Hema had received Ugandan support and are accused by the Lendu of carrying out a brutal war against them.

Lendu militiamen
The Lendu are fighting their Hema neighbours

To add to this maelstrom of competing armed factions, it is by no means certain that the Congolese government and the small UN force, Monuc, have been able to disarm all the Rwandan Hutu rebels in eastern Congo.

Local disputes or conflicts could easily destabilise what is a vulnerable peace process involving groups with no basic trust of each other.

In the best of circumstances, it would be hard to make an interim government made up of previously warring groups work smoothly, but the chances of a breakdown are even greater in a country that has lacked a nationally-accepted government in its 42 years of independence.

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See also:

03 Oct 02 | Africa
24 Sep 02 | Africa
23 Sep 02 | Africa
19 Sep 02 | Africa
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