Government, rebels OK power-sharing deal

Wednesday, April 2, 2003

SUN CITY, South Africa -- Congo's government agreed to a power-sharing deal with rebel groups Tuesday in a move mediators hoped could bring the sides a step closer to resolving one of Africa's most intractable conflicts.

Representatives of the Congolese government, rebels, political parties and civic groups adopted a transitional constitution and an agreement to set up a transitional government for Congo, a country one-fourth the size of the United States that has been experiencing 4 1/2 years of civil war.

They also reached a partial deal on defense and security arrangements, but could not agree on how to share the top posts in a new national army.

Mediators acknowledged the most difficult tasks are still to come. The civil war pulled in five other countries, and opposing forces still trade accusations that the others are violating earlier peace accords.

"Implementation is the most painful aspect of the deals, because people will have to make concessions on the ground instead of on the paper," said George Ola-Davies, spokesman for the chief mediator, former Botswana President Ketumile Masire.

The latest deals, grouped together in a document called The Final Act, are supposed to be signed Wednesday by leaders of all the groups, mediators said.

But Congo President Joseph Kabila and Jean-Pierre Bemba, leader of the rebel Congolese Liberation Movement, or MLC, still have not accepted a proposed deal under which their forces would merge with other rebel groups into a new national army. It was unclear whether they even would attend the signing ceremony in this South African resort, which would deal a symbolic blow to the accord.

Kabila has three days from Wednesday's signing ceremony to give the deal his presidential assent, otherwise it would be void under Congo law. Vital Kamerhe, a Congolese government spokesman, said he was optimistic.

"Now we have a new constitution and a plan to work together with rebels, the political opposition and civil society in a new government," he said.

Under the power-sharing deal, Kabila would lead the transitional government, which would include four vice presidents representing the present government, the two largest rebel groups and the unarmed political opposition.

The transitional government would govern for up to 2 1/2 years, after which Congo would hold its first democratic elections since achieving independence from Belgium in 1960.

In another complicating development, Congo's other main rebel group, the Congolese Rally for Democracy, said its designated administration members would not go to Kinshasa, the government-held capital of Congo, unless government troops were disarmed first and confined to barracks.

"Otherwise, there will be no security for us amidst thousands of armed government troops in the capital," said Azarias Ruberwa, the rebel group's secretary general.

The Congo war began in August 1998 when Rwanda and Uganda sent troops to support rebels seeking to oust President Laurent Kabila, Joseph Kabila's father, who was assassinated in 2001. They accused him of backing insurgents who posed a threat to regional security.

Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia sent troops to back Kabila.

Most foreign troops since have withdrawn, but last week Rwandan leaders again accused Kabila's government of arming Rwandan Hutu rebels, who fled to Congo in 1994 after killing more than 500,000 people, mostly minority Tutsis.

Key rebel groups also accuse the Congolese government of deploying its forces in eastern Congo, contrary to a 1999 cease-fire.

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