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Wednesday, September 1, 1999 Published at 14:30 GMT 15:30 UK

World: Africa

DR Congo: The rocky road to peace

An unstable peace for an unsettled region

As all the combatants involved in DR Congo's year-long civil war finally sign a peace agreement, the BBC's Ishbel Matheson reports from Lusaka on the difficult road ahead.

A burst of applause rang out when Dr Emile Ilunga, the leader of one of the factions of the Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD), finally put his signature to the Lusaka peace accord on Tuesday.

As the wine and bonhomie flowed at the celebrations afterwards, the air of relief among negotiators, politicians and international observers was palpable.

[ image:  ]
Seven weeks ago, the heads of state of the countries involved in the Congo conflict endorsed a ceasefire document, which had been painstakingly negotiated by their officials and ministers. But the main rebel group, the Rally for Congolese Democracy, withheld its signature, because of leadership wrangles within the movement.

After shuttle diplomacy by ministers from South Africa and Zambia, a formula was found to enable the leaders of both RCD factions to sign up to the deal. But as the Rwandan presidential affairs minister, Patrick Mazimhaka, noted, "Signing is the easy part, the implementation is much more difficult."

No sooner had the ink dried on the document, than the rebel hostilities resumed. This time, the quarrel was over who should represent the Rally for Congolese Democracy on the key military body responsible for implementing the ceasefire.

Each of the warring parties is supposed to nominate two representatives to the council. All the other groups have chosen their delegates and are ready to start work. But the RCD is still bickering over the issue. It does not augur well for the future of the peace process, that one of the very first measures laid down in the Lusaka accord should be the cause of such a bitter dispute.

'Herculean task'

[ image: Bizima Karaha of the RCD - still embroiled in leadership wrangles]
Bizima Karaha of the RCD - still embroiled in leadership wrangles
Negotiators believe that patient diplomacy will provide a solution. But even if this obstacle is overcome, the road to peace is a rocky one. The South African foreign minister, Nkozosana Zuma, predicted the round-table talks between the Congolese government and rebels would be extremely difficult to pull off.

Under the timetable laid down in the peace agreement, inter-Congolese dialogue should begin less than two months after the signing of the accord. The talks are supposed to open the way to a 'new political dispensation' in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

However, the Congolese government and rebels interpret the purpose of these discussions in very different ways. The leader of another rebel group, the Movement for Congolese Liberation (MLC), Jean-Pierre Bemba, said the first decision of the inter-congolese council should be to get rid of President Laurent Kabila, who has been running a "corrupt, anti-democratic and repressive regime" in Kinshasa.

This aspiration will clearly be rejected by the Congolese government. If the dialogue is to progress, it will require some skilful chairing by an independent mediator. This person - who has yet to be chosen by the parties - has a herculean task ahead of him.

On a wider level, serious difficulties remain over the implementation of the peace-keeping force in the country. Under the timetable, the contingent should be ready to go into Congo by the end of December. But who will fund this force, and which nations will contribute troops towards it, remains unclear.

UN wary

President Frederick Chiluba is due to go the United Nations on the 22nd of September, to rally support for the Zambian-brokered peace deal. He will be looking for financial, logistical and military assistance. But sources say the chances of the Security Council giving mandate to a military force to fight through the jungles of Eastern Congo are slim.

[ image: President Chiluba is seeking support from UN]
President Chiluba is seeking support from UN
The United Nations' experience in Africa has not been a happy one. The debacles in Somalia and Rwanda hurt the UN badly. It is likely to fight shy of any military involvement in the Congolese quagmire.

Even African nations have not been exactly queuing up to join a peace-keeping expedition. The regional power, South Africa, has said cautiously that it would look at any request to provide troops.

But without an effective peace-keeping force, Rwanda will find it difficult to stick to the accord. The shadow of genocide persists, and until the armed hutu militias in Eastern Congo are dealt with, the government in Kigali will not rest easy at night.

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