DR Congo

DRC: Belligerents agree on constitution, unified national army

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KINSHASA, 7 March (IRIN) - Parties to the inter-Congolese dialogue (ICD) agreed on Thursday to a programme for the drafting of a constitution and for a future unified army for a period of a national transitional government eventually leading to national democratic elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), following 11 days of discussions held in Pretoria, South Africa.
Delegates representing the Kinshasa government, the Ugandan-backed Mouvement de liberation du Congo (MLC), the Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie-Kisangani/Mouvement de liberation (RCD-K/ML), Mayi-Mayi militias, the unarmed political opposition, and civil society signed the two documents in the presence of Moustapha Niasse, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special envoy for the DRC peace process.

The two documents were signed later in the night by the Rwandan-backed RCD-Goma rebel group, which had earlier walked out of the talks in protest against the capture on Thursday of Bunia in northeastern DRC by the Uganda People's Defence Forces, driving the Union des patriotes congolais, with whom RCD-Goma is allied, out of the city. RCD-Goma alleged that this was a manoeuvre on the part of Kinshasa in attempt to prevent them from signing the two accords.

"We signed because we came to Pretoria for peace, but the government has tried to dissuade us, with its troops in Beni, Butembo, and Lubero. Although a potential threat to our security, we want to first give peace a chance," Gen Jean-Pierre Ondekane, the head of the RCD-Goma delegation, told IRIN.

"We are satisfied that this second round of negotiations has resulted in the approval of a programme for the transitional constitution and a memorandum on the army by all parties to the inter-Congolese dialogue," Niasse told reporters in Pretoria.

Niasse said he would be holding talks this weekend in Gaborone, Botswana, with Botswana former President Ketumile Masire, the facilitator of the inter-Congolese dialogue, on a date and venue for the final plenary of the on-again, off-again ICD.

Niasse also said that a government of national unity should be formed within two months of the final session of the ICD. "God willing, this will lead us to national elections in the DRC within two years," said Niasse, referring to the time projected by the draft transitional constitution.

According to Niasse, only technical questions pertaining to the formation of a national army comprising the various armed factions remain to be resolved. "It's a matter of problems of a fairly technical nature that can only be dealt with by high-ranking military officials," said Niasse.

A meeting of military experts from the armed belligerent factions - the Kinshasa government, Mayi-Mayi militias, the RCD-K/ML, the MLC and the RCD-Goma - is due to open in Pretoria on Friday.

The various parties to the accords appeared satisfied with the signing of the two documents.

"We dedicated ourselves to bringing peace to the Congolese people. We signed these documents despite their imperfections, and we believe that everyone will do their utmost so that peace might finally return to the country," said Samba Kaputo, the head of the Kinshasa delegation to the talks.

"We signed because we must give a priority to peace," said Ondekane.

"It's all well and good to sign these documents, but all parties must undertake to respect them," said Olivier Kamitatu, the secretary-general of the MLC.

The military accord foresees the arrival of a foreign military force for the training of a restructured and reformed national army. Belgium, the former colonial ruler of the DRC, as well as France and the UK, have offered such support.

[ENDS]

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