Africa leaders sign onto peace

Leaders of six countries involved in Congo's civil war agreed to stop fighting and ask for peacekeepers.

Conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo came to a halt Saturday for the first time in 11 months, when leaders of six African countries signed a peace deal.

The accord, which capped two weeks of hectic negotiations in Lusaka, Zambia, effectively freezes the situation on the ground in Congo. It leaves half of the vast central African country in the hands of rebels backed by Rwanda and Uganda and the other half under the control of Congolese President Laurent Desire Kabila and his allies - Angola, Namibia, and Zimbabwe.

But analysts say the deal has little chance of succeeding without a financial commitment from the international community and significant pressure, by regional players, on different rebel groups at odds with one for the past six months.

Moreover, in the absence of a peacekeeping force to implement the cease-fire, observers say fighting is likely to resume after a general reorganization of forces and supplies.

"This is an African deal which begs international support. We cannot implement this on our own," Jakaya Kitwete, Tanzania's foreign minister, said in Lusaka at the signing of the accord by the six belligerents, representatives from the Southern African Development Community and the Organization of African Unity, and Kenya and Libya.

Rebel leaders squabbled over who should sign. But in the end, none did, which cast further shadows on the deal's likelihood of success. Bizima Karaha of the Congolese Rally for Democracy, the original rebel faction, said the failure to produce a single signatory meant that "nothing has changed." Similar misgivings came from Olivier Kamitatu, the leader of another faction, the Congo Liberation Movement, who said: "It is not binding so long as we have not signed."

Their cooperation will depend largely on the degree of pressure their foreign sponsors, Rwanda and Uganda, will place on them. Rwanda and Uganda have agreed to pull out their troops, but only after a joint effort by all six parties clears the densely forested terrain of Eastern Congo of several thousand armed Hutu extremists seeking to overthrow the Tutsi-led government in Rwanda - and of two armed groups threatening the stability of Uganda.

The commitment by Kabila and his allies to disarm Hutu militiamen known as the Interahamwe, or those who kill together, represents a moral victory for Rwanda. Its insistence that it had invaded Congo for legitimate security reasons was challenged by Kabila in inflammatory radio broadcasts that led to the persecution and death of thousands of ethnic Congolese Tutsi after the beginning of the anti-Kabila rebellion in Congo in August 1998.

Before signing the agreement, Rwanda's President Pasteur Bizimungu said: "As far as Rwanda is concerned, the most interesting aspect of the agreement is that the countries involved have committed to disarm and fight the Interahamwe and the genocidal forces, and that was our objective."

The Interahamwe played a leading role in the Rwandan genocide of 1994 - an orchestrated campaign of murder that killed nearly a million Tutsi and politically moderate Hutu in the space of three months. Since then, the Interahamwe have been operating from bases in Eastern Congo, launching cross-border raids into Rwanda that stopped only after Rwanda's recent de facto annexation of a strip of Congolese territory across its northwestern border. But, after the beginning of the present conflict, Hutu militiamen reportedly trained in camps near Congo's capital Kinshasa and partially integrated into Kabila's army. Disarming them will require a political will that countries like Angola, which is fighting a war at home, and Zimbabwe, whose government has been insolvent for months now, are unlikely to have.

The plan also envisions 90 days of "national dialogue" to broaden or replace the government of Kabila, and the creation of an ill-defined military commission to oversee the formation of a new national army.

In the meantime, a peacekeeping force that analysts estimate will have to be at least 50,000 strong would have to be deployed to ensure that fighting does not flare up again. African heads of states attending the talks said they expected a force composed of African peacekeepers under the flag of the United Nations or the Organization of African Unity, which is currently holding its annual summit in Algiers.

The likelihood of a significant UN involvement, however, is slim, observers say. The last large-scale UN military intervention in Africa was in Somalia in 1992. There, the 35,000-strong peacekeeping force became involved in fighting for control of the Somali capital, Mogadishu. The deaths of 18 US Marines brought about a total withdrawal, stripping the UN's leading partners of the political will that one year later was needed to stop the genocide in Rwanda.

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