The promise, the problems

A cease-fire is to be signed Dec. 8, but the seven armies involved don't say the fighting will actually stop.

No Franco-African summit had ever been the cause of so much commotion as the one in Paris over the weekend. For the first time, all but three of Africa's 51 countries were represented in Paris, 33 of them at the level of head of state - all with Congo on their mind.

France was determined to reassert its role and influence as Africa's main Western partner. It had made it perfectly clear that it would settle for nothing short of a cease-fire agreement that would silence the guns of the seven armies currently embroiled in the Congolese conflict.

In that respect, observers say, the summit was a success.

Congo's President Laurent Kabila and his allies from Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia, and Chad came to a verbal cease-fire agreement with Uganda and Rwanda, which have supported the four-month-old insurgency against President Kabila.

The war's roots lie in Rwanda's Hutu-Tutsi conflict of 1994. A Hutu massacre of perhaps a million Tutsis was followed by a Tutsi-controlled Rwandan government's retaliation driving Hutus into Congo. The current rebellion supported by Rwanda goes back to Kabila's failure to control extremist Hutus on Rwanda's border.

The Paris summit's truce accord is to be signed on Dec. 8 in Lusaka, Zambia, before an Organization of African Unity meeting in Burkina Faso Dec. 17-18.

The question now is whether the agreement, brokered by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, will hold. Analysts say the conciliatory mood will be difficult to export to Africa, where leaders of the Congolese rebellion have already rejected the terms of the cease-fire and said they will fight until Kabila is deposed.

Furthermore, Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni, one of the key players in the Congolese war, wasted no time in saying that his troops would remain in Congo "until an alternative arrangement" could be found that would secure Uganda's border from rebels against the Ugandan government in the neighboring Congo.

"The chances of an alternative arrangement being found in the 20th century are pretty remote," says a diplomat based in Rwanda's capital, Kigali. "Kabila doesn't have the money or the troops to secure that border."

Another indication of trouble ahead came at a press conference at the end of the summit in which Kabila qualified the cease-fire agreement as one that "does not mean laying down arms immediately" but rather implied that there would be "no more troop advances or offensives."

"We are the ones who are defending ourselves," he said. "They [Uganda and Rwanda] are the ones who are attacking."

Rwanda's President Pasteur Bizimungu made no comment upon leaving the talks. Critics have noted that Rwanda's apparent willingness to work toward a cease-fire may hide a different agenda.

"They'll say yes to everything as long as they know the rebels will say no," says the Kigali-based diplomat, "I think they [the Rwandans] are actually determined to make advances, capture more territory. But they have to posture."

The conflict remains potentially devastating to the heart of Africa. As efforts to mediate it move past the pomp of Paris, progress is likely to be slowed down by Kabila's continued refusal to recognize the rebellion as a Congolese phenomenon with supporters among the Congolese.

Rebel leaders were invited to Paris but were kept out of the talks as in past diplomatic attempts to end the war. Their leader, Ernest Wamba dia Wamba, said no solution would be found without prior acknowledgment of the rebels' significance.

"We are the ones who have the arms," says a source in Goma, political headquarters of the rebels. "We are the ones who are doing the fighting. How can Kabila think this is going to work without us?"

Fighting went on uninterrupted in Congo over the weekend.

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