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Tuesday, April 20, 1999 Published at 17:05 GMT 18:05 UK

World: Africa

Uganda downplays Congo agreement

Ugandan troops involved in the war in Congo

By Africa reporter Caroline Hawley

The Ugandan Government has played down the significance of an agreement reached in Libya on Sunday to help end the eight-month war in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The agreement, brokered by Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi, called for a withdrawal of all foreign troops in Congo, and the deployment of an African peace-keeping force.

Congo's President Kabila signed the accord - along with the Presidents of Uganda, Chad and Eritrea - and described it as a step on the road to peace.

Colonel Gaddafi described it as the beginning of a tangible solution to the greatest problem currently facing Africa.

But a Ugandan minister told the BBC the agreement was a statement of Uganda's desires.

He said Ugandan troops, who have been backing the rebels, had no plans to withdraw immediately.

Key players absent

Since the Congolese war erupted last August, countless initiatives have been launched to try to end the conflict.

But key players in conflict were not present at the meeting.

The rebels themselves were absent, as was Rwanda which, along with Uganda, has supported the rebellion from the outset.

Both the Rwandan Government and the rebels expressed scepticism over the agreement.

Now the Ugandan Government has also played down its importance, saying it committed Uganda to withdrawing troops only once its border with Congo was secure.

Progress made

It is not the first time hopes have been falsely raised of an end to this complex conflict.

The war has now drawn in seven foreign armies - battling for a bewildering array of political, military and financial interests.

The past few months have, however, seen some small flickers of progress.

President Kabila has dropped a previous refusal to talk directly to the rebels.

And the rebels now say they intend to take part in planned talks with the Congolese government, hosted by the Sant' Egidio religious community in Rome at the end of the month.

They have insisted, however, that President Kabila allow domestic opposition figures and civic leaders to attend - and that he first release political prisoners.

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