Background to the conflict in the DR Congo, May 2004
The current conflict in the DRC is rooted in the unresolved conflict between the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan government and its opponent, the extremist Hutu Interahamwe rebels operating in eastern DRC.
In 1997 when Rwanda helped Laurent Kabila gain power in the DRC, they hoped to resolve their border security concerns.
However, Kabila's refusal or inability to deal with the Interahamwe rebels broke this alliance. Both Rwanda and Uganda accused Kabila of allowing rebel groups to attack their countries from bases in the eastern DRC.
They attempted to remove Kabila from power by establishing the Rassemblement Conglais Democratie (RCD), a rebel group drawn mainly from Congolese Tutsis.
The rebellion quickly escalated into full-scale war involving the armed forces of six African countries, including Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia which intervened to support Kabila.
The DRC is rich in gold, diamonds and coltan (the mineral used in mobile phones), but this has been a curse not a blessing as these resources are both an underlying cause of the war and a factor that continues to fuel the violence.
The United Nations has accused senior political and military officials from Rwanda, Uganda and Zimbabwe of using their intervention in the DRC as a cover to loot its huge mineral wealth, and has named international companies complicit in this process.
Companies accused include four British companies: De Beers, Oryx Natural Resources, Avient Air and Das Air, who all deny accusations of fuelling the conflict through their business interests.
The current situation
In July 2001, President Joseph Kabila, Laurent's son, adopted an agreement with Rwanda in which he was to disarm the Hutu extremists in the east, in return for Rwandan troop withdrawal.
In December 2002, a deal was signed in South Africa between opposing groups within the DRC, which led to the signing of a new constitution in April 2003.
The new constitution provides for power sharing over a two-year transition period. Elections are due in 2005. During this period, Joseph Kabila remains the head of state, but four vice-presidents represent the main opposition groups.
Despite these peace deals, fighting and appalling attacks on civilians are still occurring in eastern Congo, and the rich mineral resources continue to be a powerful incentive for war.
Progress in disarming Hutu militias has been slow, and despite the official withdrawal of Rwandan troops in October 2002, the UN mission in the DRC has confirmed that Rwandan troops are still present in eastern DRC.
In response to this increasing violence, following pressure from organisations such as Christian Aid, the UN increased its forces in DRC to 10,800. The UN troops were also given the authority to use all necessary means to protect civilians. This led to a decrease in fighting in the east, but the area remains unstable, particularly in the gold and diamond mining areas.