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Great Lakes
Last Updated: Monday, 4 August, 2003, 16:31 GMT 17:31 UK
DR Congo's lifeline returns
For the first time since the outbreak of the war five years ago, river barges carrying commercial goods have arrived in the north-eastern town of Kisangani from the capital, Kinshasa.

A convoy of eight barges belonging to the Beltexco company arrived in the formerly rebel-held town on Sunday, carrying $10m worth of salt, cement and flour as well as thousands of bicycles.

Thousands of people lined the banks of the river to greet the barges, with many more dancing aboard river boats drawn up alongside the barges.

The economies of both Kisangani and the capital, Kinshasa are heavily dependent on the arduous Congo river which links them.

Before the war, barges from the capital would arrive in Kisangani at the rate of about two a week.

The barges took 35 days to make the journey upstream from Kinshasa.

Lower prices

The resumption of trade activity along the Congo river should lead to lower commodity prices.

The arrival of the huge consignment of flour, for example, will reduce the price of the commodity and allow bread prices to be halved, according to an official of the UN mission for the DR Congo.

River barges similar to this one will boost trade leading to lower prices

This renewed economic activity comes at a time when the DR Congo is in line for debt relief worth as much as $10bn (6.2bn) after the International Monetary Fund and World Bank gave their blessing to economic reforms.

An IMF review completed a week ago pointed to positive economic growth in 2002 and inflation dropping from 135% to 16% in just one year.

But despite this positive news, the economy of the war-torn nation remains in tatters, and the appointment of a new government comprising both the former administration and rebel groups has not stopped widespread and vicious fighting.

The situation is particularly dire in the resource-rich north-eastern Ituri region, where a United Nations force trying to impose peace has just had its mandate extended by another year.

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