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Page last updated at 17:11 GMT, Thursday, 26 March 2009

Sarkozy outlines Congo peace plan

French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Kinshasa on 26 March 2009
Mr Sarkozy will also visit the Republic of Congo and Niger

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has suggested using the mineral wealth of the Democratic Republic of Congo to help bring peace to central Africa.

Addressing parliament in Kinshasa, he also praised Congolese President Joseph Kabila's joint operation with Rwanda against rebels earlier this year.

The region has been plagued by rival militias for more than a decade.

He said the region's people could become rich by working together or continue to fight and remain poor.

French nuclear giant Areva's chief executive has taken advantage of the visit to sign a deal to exploit uranium in DR Congo.

Sarkozy is forgetting that Congo has been sharing its wealth with the world for such a long time - what has it got in return?

No further details were released but DR Congo has major uranium reserves and was the source of some of the raw material for the atomic bombs the US dropped on Japan in World War II.

Mr Sarkozy has continued his two-day African tour by visiting the neighbouring Republic of Congo, previously a French colony.

He is expected in uranium-rich Niger on Friday.

Mr Sarkozy is joined by ministers and other executives from French firms - including France Telecom, cement maker Lafarge and construction group Vinci - chasing contracts in various sectors.

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Addressing Kinshasa's national assembly in the first visit by a French president to the former Belgian colony in a quarter of a century, Mr Sarkozy suggested Kinshasa and its Great Lakes neighbours work together for their mutual benefit.

"The peoples of central Africa will not be changing their address.

"If they can develop good neighbourly relations, the peoples of central Africa will have a rich and peaceful life. If it's a case of might is right, the peoples of central Africa will stay poor and unhappy," he said.

He gained a round of applause from MPs for saying that Congolese sovereignty would not be violated.

Uproar

Preparations for the visit were overshadowed by comments Mr Sarkozy made in January when he suggested DR Congo share its mineral wealth with Rwanda as a way to end violence around the main eastern city of Goma.

The idea triggered uproar with the Congolese media accusing Paris of seeking a "Balkanisation" of the country and trying to use DR Congo's mineral wealth to help mend its ties with Rwanda.

Paris and Kigali have been at loggerheads for years over who is to blame for Rwanda's 1994 genocide, in which some 800,000 people were slaughtered.

Congolese soldiers jump over the red carpet before the arrival of Nicolas Sarkozy in Kinshasa on 26 March 2009
Nicolas Sarkozy reviewed the guard of honour in Kinshasa

Kinshasa resident Jean Pierre Mafuta told the BBC News website:

"What Mr Sarkozy is forgetting, is that DR Congo had been sharing its wealth, its people and its land with the world for such a long time - what has the Congo got in return?"

Ahead of the visit, aides in Mr Sarkozy's office said: "There is no French peace plan, no plan to share riches, it is not the right moment," reported AFP.

On Thursday Mr Sarkozy also praised as "brave" the Congolese leader's decision to invite Rwandan troops into his country in January for a five-week joint operation against rebel militias plaguing the neighbours' border.

The move was politically sensitive as Rwanda has twice invaded the country in recent years and many Congolese distrusted the Kigali forces' presence.

The aim of the military campaign was to flush out rebel forces each government has accused the other of backing and which have been at the heart of the region's conflicts since Rwanda's genocide.

The DR Congo parliament's speaker was forced to quit on Wednesday after criticising Mr Kabila's decision to let in the Rwandan troops.



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