South Africa: Mbeki to visit DRC to boost peace process
JOHANNESBURG, 1 July (IRIN) - President Thabo Mbeki is to visit the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) shortly in a bid to bolster the country's troubled peace process.
A recent coup attempt and tension between the DRC and neighbouring Rwanda have caused concern that the peace deal could unravel, plunging the Great Lakes region into conflict once more.
Presidential spokesman David Hlabane confirmed on Thursday that Mbeki would soon be visiting the DRC. "It [the visit] is about rendering assistance with regard to the peace process. [President Mbeki] has been one of the main players in assisting the progress towards peace," Hlabane told IRIN.
Details around the visit have yet to be confirmed. "We still have to make a formal announcement of when that [visit] will happen," he explained.
Mbeki was behind the 2002 peace agreement signed in Pretoria, South Africa, that laid the foundation for ending the conflict in the DRC, in which neighbouring countries were drawn into years of fighting.
In 1998 Rwandan and Ugandan forces backed rebels against the Kinshasa government, while Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe supported the late DRC president, Laurent-Desire Kabila. The conflict killed an estimated 3.3 million people.
DRC President Joseph Kabila and his Rwandan counterpart, Paul Kagame, agreed on Friday last week to take immediate steps to calm tensions on their common border after Kabila had accused Rwanda of being behind the renegade soldiers who captured Bukavu in the volatile eastern DRC earlier last month.
Following mediation by Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, both countries resolved to set up "a joint verification mechanism" to investigate activities on their frontiers and adhere to the terms of the 2002 peace agreement.
John Stremlau, a South African-based analyst, told IRIN that Mbeki's upcoming trip to the DRC was "very appropriate".
"In light of the African Union summit coming up, and after the G8 summit in Sea Island, Georgia, last month, that embraced the idea of a large amount of support for African capacity in peace operations, this is a real test of Mbeki's strategy for emphasising peace and security as essential for development," he said. Mbeki had "a lot invested" in the peace process in DRC.
"It's a positive step for South Africa's Africa policy, at a time when it's limited in what it can do," he said in reference to the country's lack of success in mediating Zimbabwe's ongoing political crisis.
Successful implementation of the peace process in the DRC has major implications for the region and the continent, Stremlau noted.
"In the long term, if you have a continental vision of African recovery, and Africa playing a more respectable role in the global economy, you cannot have this enormous resource in the centre [the DRC] ... in conflict. There are long-term economic implications, such as hydropower for the continent, and [DRC has enough] resources not only for the continent but beyond," said Stremlau.
Both South Africa's business community and government had "committed to take the risk of investing in the DRC, but you have to have a modicum of security and peace to do so," he added.
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