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Friday, July 16, 1999 Published at 16:47 GMT 17:47 UK

World: Africa

Rebels reject Kabila amnesty offer

Rebels are not yet ready to lay down their arms

One of the rebel groups involved in fighting in the DR Congo has rejected the offer of a general amnesty from President Laurent Kabila.

"Kabila is the one who deserves [to be offered] amnesty in the first place," Moise Nyarugabo, vice-president of the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD) told the Rwandan News Agency.

"Kabila should seek forgiveness from the rebels and all Congolese people. The only way to do so is to quit power and leave the Congolese in peace," he said.

President Kabila made his offer of amnesty at the recent OAU summit in Algiers, saying it applied to soldiers, civilians and politicians.

Rebels 'take town'

Meanwhile, another rebel group in the DR Congo says it has captured a town in the north of the country, dashing hopes that they might soon sign an agreement to end the 11-month war.

Jean-Pierre Bemba, the leader of the Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC), said his forces captured the town of Gemena late on Wednesday.

"It was a serious fight and our troops are now cleaning the area," the rebel leader said.

There was no independent confirmation of the news.

Gemena, 1000km (600 miles) northeast of the capital Kinshasa, has already changed hands three times during the war.

Steady gains

Six African governments involved in the Congolese war signed a peace accord in the Zambian capital, Lusaka, on Saturday.

[ image:  ]
But the rebels failed to sign the document following a dispute over who was the recognised head of the RCD, which has split into two factions.

The RCD has since vowed to intensify the war. A statement issued by President Kabila's allies on Thursday said rebels had attacked seven towns in the east this week and the allies would retaliate if they continued.

Mr Bemba's Uganda-backed MLC faction has made steady gains in the north in the past few weeks. His forces took Gbadolite, the home town of the late-President Mobutu Sese Seko, earlier this month.

The MLC leader said government aircraft had on Sunday bombed his new base in the town, violating the spirit of the peace deal.

Enforcing the deal

But Ugandan Foreign Minister Amama Mbabazi said he was confident the ceasefire would hold once measures to police it were in place.

[ image: President Kabila signed up to the peace accord with other African nations]
President Kabila signed up to the peace accord with other African nations
"We will be in a position to verify these accusations and counter-accusations and then the Joint Military Commission or the United Nations can enforce the letter of the agreement," he said.

The Joint Military Commission - which gathers representatives from all the Lusaka signatories under a neutral chairman - would be up and running in a "matter of weeks", he said, and would enforce the accord until a UN peacekeeping force was in place.

Mr Mbabazi said he was working to persuade all rebel groups to support the agreement. He said he would join other ministers in the region for a meeting on Monday in Lusaka to work out technical details for implementing the accord.

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