DR Congo + 2 more

African Leaders Open Talks on New Congo Peace Deal

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By Manoah Esipisu
LUSAKA (Reuters) - African leaders opened talks on Wednesday aimed at reviving a foundering peace deal for the Democratic Republic of the Congo. But South Africa, the region's powerhouse, was absent.

Presidents Frederick Chiluba of Zambia, Laurent Kabila of the Congo, Pasteur Bizimungu of Rwanda, Sam Nujoma of Namibia, Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe met behind closed doors.

They were joined by senior officials from the United Nations and the Organization of African Unity (OAU).

The presidents met as the U.N. Security Council edged toward adopting a resolution that would send an initial observer force of 5,500 to monitor the cease-fire in the Congo.

The United States, which sponsored the resolution, had wanted it approved to coincide with Wednesday's talks in Lusaka. But diplomats said negotiations had not been completed and chances were slim it would be adopted before Thursday.

Differences Among Council Members

Differences persisted between council members, particularly those such as Namibia which strongly support Kabila. One dispute is a condemnation of Hutu refugee fighters, involved in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, who now back the Kinshasa government.

Conspicuously absent from the Lusaka talks was regional giant South Africa, which has spearheaded peace efforts in the Congo and is expected to provide the backbone of a U.N. peacekeeping mission in the former Zaire.

South Africa played a key role in securing the peace agreement last year, and there was no explanation on Wednesday for Pretoria's absence.

South African President Thabo Mbeki is known, however, to have a difficult relationship with Kabila.

Kabila has repeatedly accused South Africa of arming and supporting Ugandan and Rwandan-backed rebels fighting to oust him -- charges denied by Pretoria.

Congo's civil war has drawn troops from Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe in support of Kabila against rebels backed by Rwanda and Uganda.

Officials in Lusaka said the leaders would examine a draft copy of the U.N. Security Council resolution and take steps to revise the cease-fire, which has almost collapsed because of repeated violations by both sides.

The governments involved in the war signed an accord in Lusaka last July and rebel leaders endorsed it in August. But fighting has nevertheless continued in the war, which has cost thousands of lives, and uprooted about one million people.

The United Nations, led by a reluctant United States, has said it will not deploy peacekeepers in the Congo unless the fighting stops and belligerents re-commit themselves to peace.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has proposed a 5,500-strong U.N. cease-fire monitoring mission estimated to cost some $160 million, but regional analysts say that is too few.

Annan's proposed operation would include four reinforced infantry battalions comprising 3,400 troops; two 150-member marine companies, each with four boats to make use of the Congo's extensive river system, plus headquarters staffs and medical, communications and aviation units.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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