DR Congo + 3 more

DRC-Zimbabwe: Ikela relieved

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JOHANNESBURG, 24 January (IRIN) - The lifting of a rebel siege of the northwestern town of Ikela last week by Zimbabwean forces has removed a major irritant to the implementation of the peace process in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), diplomatic sources said on Monday.
Zimbabwe defence spokesman Chancellor Diye told IRIN that "the whole of Ikela is now under our control" and the Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie (RCD) rebels were retreating east towards Kisangani. With the relief of the 700 allied troops trapped at the airport of Ikela - in breach of the Lusaka peace accord - "the situation is relatively quiet along the frontline and we hope it stays that way," Diye said.

The situation "seems to have been resolved militarily", a UN Organisation Mission in the DRC (MONUC) official told IRIN. He added: "If the Ikela situation has been sorted out, and with the UN Security Council meeting on the Congo this week, then we're at a good crossroads with the opportunity for real progress."

A week-long extraordinary Security Council session, attended by key regional leaders, opened in New York on Monday to discuss the DRC conflict. The fighting pits Rwandan and Ugandan backed rebels against DRC government troops supported by Angolan, Namibian and Zimbabwean forces.

In a report to the Council last week, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan proposed the deployment of a total force of 5,537 UN troops to be provisionally based around Mbandaka in the north, Mbuji Mayi in the south, Kisangani in the east, and a point yet to be determined in the southeast. He said the proposal was based on the assumption the parties to the conflict would respect last year's Lusaka peace accord.

Annan said the force would be concentrated around four reinforced infantry battalions, two marine companies and aviation units to protect and facilitate the work of an expanded MONUC team of 500 unarmed military observers. He stressed the troops "would not serve as an interposition force" and additional tasks - including facilitating the eventual disarmament and demobilisation of armed groups and monitoring and verifying the withdrawal of foreign forces - "will require the approval of the Council for a larger operation".

"It is still a long way to go," the MONUC official said. "This week we're sitting tight to hear about the size of the force, how it's to be deployed and where, and then the ball's back in our court." He added, given the logistical problems of operating in the DRC - its sheer size and lack of transport infrastructure - "if we could open up the rivers for transport that would cure a logistical headache and would be a huge bonus for the country itself."

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