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Saturday, July 10, 1999 Published at 08:29 GMT 09:29 UK

World: Africa

Analysis: Premature euphoria in Congo

There are estimated to be tens of thousands of rebels under arms

By Ishbel Matheson in Lusaka

As ministers and rebels from the warring factions in the Congo conflict filed out of Lusaka International Conference Centre on Wednesday night, there was laughter and back-slapping as, after two weeks of difficult negotiations, a ceasefire deal had been struck.

"The war is over", declared the flamboyant Congolese Foreign Minister, Abdoullaye Yerodia, raising his arms aloft.

The rebel leaders and presidents of the countries involved in the conflict are due to put their signatures to an ambitious - some might say unrealistic - document, aimed at securing peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

  • Within 24 hours of the leaders signing the document, there must be a cessation of all hostilities.

  • Within two weeks, there must be a complete disengagement of all forces.

  • Within four months, a United Nations peacekeeping force must be deployed, and the Hutu extremists operating in Eastern Congo detained.

  • Within six months, all foreign forces will withdraw.

Independent observers in Lusaka say this timetable is virtually impossible to implement, and the commitment to hunt down the armed groups - some of whom were involved in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda - is particularly problematic.

There are estimated to be tens of thousands of armed militia roaming the jungles of Eastern Congo, yet intelligence on their organisation and leadership is poor.

As one diplomat in Lusaka put it: "Who are these extremists? No one knows because no one has ever spoken to them. If we think they are going to sit around waiting to be picked up by an African peacekeeping force, we are very much mistaken."

The nightmare scenario is a long, bloody campaign against an enemy accustomed to fighting in the dense terrain of Eastern Congo.

UN force

Although the ceasefire accord calls for the United Nations to help, senior officials in Lusaka have warned that the UN is extremely unlikely to mandate a peacekeeping force to carry out a seemingly impossible task.

However, if action is not taken, the Rwandans will find it difficult to stick to the peace agreement.

The issue is one of national survival. While Hutu extremists haunt their borders, the threat of another genocide remains.

Mutual suspicion

For the Congolese Government and rebels, the ceasefire deal poses different problems.

[ image: Will Professor Wamba be willing to give up territory and troops?]
Will Professor Wamba be willing to give up territory and troops?
The draft document envisages that negotiations will open between the government, rebels and civil society, under the auspices of an independent mediator.

The aim - in the words of one of the rebel leaders, Ernest Wamba dia Wamba - is to "resurrect the Congolese nation."

But there is deep suspicion on both sides. After 11 months of war, it will be hard to lay aside enmity and concentrate on the task of nation building.

Pre-occupiations with power

The formation of a new national army, made up of rebel and government forces, is likely to be fraught with difficulty.

The personal commitment of the rebel leaders must also be in question.

Jean-Pierre Bemba for the Movement for the Liberation of Congo, Emile Illunga and Mr Wamba of the divided Rally for Congolese Democracy seem more pre-occupied with power than peace.

The squabbles between the different factions have been a bizarre sideshow to the Lusaka talks process.

Whether they would be willing to give up their territory and their troops, while their sworn enemy, President Laurent Kabila, remains in power, remains highly doubtful.

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