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Last Updated: Friday, 20 June, 2003, 19:56 GMT 20:56 UK
DR Congo truce holding
Mark Doyle
By Mark Doyle
BBC world affairs correspondent

A UPC militia near a UN compound in Bunia
Bunia has been a flashpoint for violence between ethnic militias

A ceasefire between the main rebel group and pro-government forces in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is holding, say United Nations officials.

UN officials and local people in eastern Congo are holding their breath, hoping - against past experience - that the latest ceasefire will hold.

Just hours before it was signed on Thursday the main rebel group in the east took the town of Lubero from pro-government forces.

It was the latest success in a long-term offensive the rebels have been mounting in the east.

Ethnic cauldron

The whole area was then braced for potential chaos, because just north of Lubero is the town of Butembo - with a population of over 500,000 - and further north still is the ethnic cauldron around the town of Bunia that French and UN forces are trying to calm.

The fear was that the various conflicts could combine, spreading chaos across the region.

But so far the ceasefire has held and the rebels appear to have stopped at Lubero.

French soldier take up a defensive position, in Bunia
French troops are in north-east Congo to protect civilians

It's estimated that the war in Congo has cost some three million lives in the past decade, either through fighting or hunger and disease.

International negotiations, pushed especially by South Africa, have led to the withdrawal of most of the foreign forces which got sucked in to the nationwide war.

Buffer zone

But the conflict in the east has continued.

The main rebel force, backed by Congo's neighbour Rwanda, seems to be intent on carving out a slice of Congo which would act as a buffer zone to stop anti-Rwandan government rebels based in Congo from attacking Rwanda.

The fighting in Kivu Province had been threatening to spread northwards where French troops based in the town of Bunia are helping United Nations peacekeepers contain a separate conflict.


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