drc013 Is peace within reach in Congo?

Congo Kinshasa 
Is peace within reach in Congo?

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afrol.com, 19 March - Last week marked the completing of the Rwandan troop pullout from the southeastern front in Congo Kinshasa (DRC) and President Joseph Kabila's first meeting with Katumile Masire, the official mediator. A new report however highlights the failure to embark on an Inter-Congolese Dialogue and serious negotiations.

A new report from the International Crisis Group (ICG), From Kabila to Kabila: Prospects for Peace in the Congo, says that while there is progress, the divergent interests of the warring parties have still not been satisfied. "There have been no serious negotiations yet between the six nations with armies in the DRC, and they continue to struggle for influence and spoils," the ICG concludes. 

Since Laurent Kabila’s assassination two months ago, and his son Joseph’s appointment as President, the demands for disengagement and disarmament in the 1999 Lusaka Cease-fire Agreement have had a better chance. "But there has been no progress on an Inter-Congolese Dialogue which is essential if the Congo is to be put back together politically. This forum risks being hijacked by the foreign belligerents, all of whom will use Congolese proxies to push their agendas," the ICG maintains. 

Joseph Kabila’s grip on power is weak and his commitment to peace is uncertain. He relies on external patrons, Zimbabwe and Angola, who are deeply mistrustful of each other. Both want to dominate the DRC’s wealth and its security forces. Hardliner Zimbabwe, suspicious of the security breach that enabled Laurent Kabila to be killed, has detained numerous Congolese associated with Angola, including Eddy Kapend, the military officer who appeared on television shortly after the assassination calling for calm. Angola, on the other hand, has developed into the strongest supporter of Kabila's new peace line.

Uganda and Rwanda - once united against Laurent Kabila, are also exchanging hostile accusations. President Yoweri Museveni recently called Rwanda a "hostile state," accusing it of giving financial support to his domestic political opponents during the recent elections. In turn, Rwanda has accused Uganda of harbouring some of President Kagame’s opponents.

In Kinshasa, hardliners are back in control of the government, opposing any dialogue with anti-government rebels until there is a total military withdrawal of all foreign forces, according tothe ICG. The rebels, backed by Rwanda and Uganda, refuse any dialogue without a power-sharing agreement. Frustrated by the lack of progress, the powerful Ugandan-backed rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba has already threatened to reopen fighting. "There appears, therefore, to be long odds against the Inter-Congolese Dialogue ever starting," the ICG concludes. "If it does begin, it is likely to become a new theatre for strife between all the competing interests." 

Ending the fighting was just the first step. ICG’s President Gareth Evans said: "The Congo needs rebirth. It urgently needs an agreement to form a transition government that includes representatives of all armed and unarmed Congolese groups. It needs a new constitution and elections to legitimise power." Joseph Kabila so far has ruled out the possibility of a quick return to democarcy in Congo Kinshasa.

Mr Evans added: "The international community must remain vigilant, using strict conditions over assistance to President Kabila to overcome the resistance to opening a dialogue. The neutral facilitator, Sir Kesumile Masire, must be given every support to ensure that the interests of the Congolese people, not the warring parties, are served by the Dialogue." 

Overall developments have however been positive lately. Joseph Kabila, son of the late Laurent Désiré Kabila, speaks a far more peaceful language than that of his bellicose father. The new president swiftly agreed to the deployment of a United Nations military observer force (MONUC) to oversee troop withdrawals, and he approved the appointment of Sir Ketumile Masire to open a vital Inter-Congolese Dialogue. 

There has also been contact between Kabila and Rwandan President Paul Kagame, his father’s old enemy, on disarmament of the forces associated with the Rwandan genocide of 1994, who found refuge in Congo. The UN Security Council hailed these gestures of goodwill by approving the deployment of MONUC in February to verify disengagement of forces, and almost immediately Rwandan and Ugandan forces began some troop withdrawals, which were completed on Thursday, well in advance of the agreed timetable.

Sources: Based on ICG and afrol archives

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