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The BBC's Anna Borzello
"An immediate and total cessation of hostilities"
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The BBC's Stephanie Walters in Kinshasa
"Organisers of Congo strike blamed poor turnout on government manipulation"
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Sunday, 9 April, 2000, 02:16 GMT 03:16 UK
DR Congo ceasefire agreed
Prisoners of war
The rebels control about half of the country
The warring sides in the Democratic Republic of Congo have agreed a new ceasefire to try to end 20 months of fighting.

Begins on Friday
Includes 30km buffer zone
Paves way for 5,500-strong UN deployment

The Joint Military Commission (JMC) - which brings together the Congolese Government, rebel leaders and five other African nations involved in the war - said the new ceasefire would begin at 0000 GMT on 14 April.

It is the latest attempt to put the faltering Lusaka peace accord back on track. The deal, which was signed by all parties in August, has been threatened by allegations of ceasefire violations from all sides.

Under the new cessation, each military chief has agreed a 30km (18 mile) buffer zone to prevent future violations of the ceasefire, JMC chairman and Ugandan government minister, Amama Mbabazi, said.

"At the moment, the forces are so close to each other [that] fighting can start accidentally by someone drunkenly shooting in the air," he said.


He told the BBC that he hoped the new agreement would stick, as all sides had been involved in hammering it out.

Political negotiators endorsed the deal agreed earlier on Saturday by military representatives of the warring groups after three days of talks.

Uganda and Rwanda back the rebels, while Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia support the government of President Laurent Kabila. Reuters news agency reported that Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe arrived in DR Congo on Saturday, but no other details were available.

president kabila
President Kabila: Backed by Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia

Officials from the United Nations and the Organisation of Africa Unity also attended the meeting.

If implemented, the ceasefire will allow the deployment of 5,000 UN peacekeepers and a 500-strong observer mission, who will help the JMC monitor the agreement.

The committee urged the UN to ensure its forces were quickly deployed.

'Positive move'

A senior UN official said on Saturday the new ceasefire deal was a positive development, provided it stuck.

"If on 14 April this commitment can be put in practice, it will hasten UN troop deployment and convince countries who are still hesitant to provide troops to change their minds."

Mediators hope the deal will lead to the withdrawal of all foreign armies from DR Congo.

But analysts say the disengagement plan will only work if there is real political will.

There has been increasing pressure over the past few months to salvage the fragile peace process.

The situation was beginning to look precarious, with one of the Congolese rebel groups recently announcing it believed the Lusaka ceasefire was effectively at an end.

Correspondents say Mr Kabila's policies on the war, the economy and the political scene are increasingly unpopular within the country.

On Saturday, opposition politicians - whose parties are banned under a restrictive government law - asked the Congolese to stay away from work to protest against the war, although few heeded call.

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See also:

24 Feb 00 | Africa
Congolese face the future
18 Feb 00 | Africa
Congo's war within a war
23 Jun 99 | Africa
DR Congo: What price peace?
24 Feb 00 | Africa
UN approves Congo force
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