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Thursday, August 12, 1999 Published at 18:35 GMT 19:35 UK

World: Africa

Congo rebels declare 'polio ceasefire'

Rival rebel factions clashed in Kisangani recently

A rebel leader in the Democratic Republic of Congo has agreed to a one-week ceasefire to allow a vaccination campaign against polio to take place.

Emile Ilunga, who heads one wing of the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD), described the move as a humanitarian gesture, which he hoped would help Congo towards peace. The ceasefire is due to begin at midnight on Thursday.

He urged Congolese President Laurent Kabila to reciprocate and halt all aggression during the one-week period.

Rebel rifts

The rebel's cause has been seriously handicapped in recent months by internal rifts, with Dr Ilunga's leadership challenged by former RCD leader, Ernest Wamba dia Wamba.

[ image:  ]
Dr Ilunga has the backing of the Rwandan Government, while Prof Wamba is supported by Uganda.

Returning from a visit to the rebel-held city of Kisangani after fighting between the two rebel groups at the weekend, South Africa's foreign minister said Congo's third largest city was clearly divided.

"Troops in Kisangani were quite visible. You could see and feel that Kisangani is a divided city with two armies that do not like each other," Nkosazana Zuma said.

She said she was still optimistic about a peace settlement, but added the dispute over who should sign a ceasefire was delaying the deployment of international peacekeepers to the country.

Dr Zuma is expected to submit a report advising African governments involved in peace negotiations who should be regarded as leading the rebels.

A peace deal was agreed in July by six African nations involved in the year-old war, but rivalry between Dr Ilunga and Prof Wamba prevented the RCD from signing the accord in Lusaka last month.

The Congolese Government and its allies and the rebels' foreign backers all signed the deal.

A separate rebel group, the Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC) has also signed.

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