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Thursday, September 23, 1999 Published at 11:27 GMT 12:27 UK

World: Africa

Peace mediators start talks in DR Congo

Two foreign mediators have arrived in the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kinshasa, to help organise a national debate on the future of the country.

Battle for the heart of Africa
Padre Matteo Zuppi of the Italian St Egidio Roman Catholic community and the former Benin President Derlin Zinsou are attempting to organise 'national dialogue' aimed at securing permanent peace after a year of civil war.

Under a ceasefire agreement signed in July and August, the government of President Laurent Kabila and the rebel groups opposed to his regime agreed to take part in nation-building talks involving all sectors of society.

Mr Zinsou said the mediators had already met opposition politicians but that some feared President Kabila would use the national dialogue for his own purposes.

No mandate

Mr Kabila last week invited the rebel groups to talks in Kinshasa, but they turned down his request saying he had not mandate to convene discussions.

The peace accord, brokered by Zambia, called for an immediate ceasefire, the withdrawal of foreign troops and the deployment of an international peacekeeping force.

On Tuesday the Zambian President Frederick Chiluba urged the UN Security Council to authorise a peacekeeping force for the DR Congo.

He told the Council that the ceasefire was ''generally holding'' but that Africa could not do the job alone.

The UN has already sent the first of 90 military observers to liaise with combatants in the conflict.

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