Congo's president, rebels agree to share power

Tuesday, July 1, 2003

KINSHASA, Congo -- Congo's president signed a new power-sharing government into being Monday, joining Congo's existing government and rebels in an administration meant to lead the central African nation out of nearly five years of war.

If it holds, the transition government stands as a major step toward ending a war that has split Africa's third-largest nation. President Joseph Kabila, signing the government into being in a decree, called on Congo's belligerents to "draw a line between the past and the present, and look toward a bright future."

The pact divides 36 ministries among the government, rebel movements and pro-government militias, political parties and representatives of civil society, in line with a December peace accord.

The main obstacle to formation of the transition government was removed over the weekend, when the government and two rebel groups agreed to divide control of branches of the military and top military posts among them.

The transition government is meant to oversee elections in Congo in roughly a year's time. Congo was ruled by Cold War despot Mobutu Sese Seko for most of the time since independence from Belgium in 1960, and has never known true democracy.

Rebels welcomed formation of the government, but said that was just the beginning.

"The mistrust is still there -- you can't make that disappear with a magic wand. We have to work together to establish confidence between the different parties," said Moise Nyarugbo, representing the Congolese Rally for Democracy/Goma rebel movement.

Congo still faces numerous hurdles as it tries to unite the war-divided country. Congo's Kinshasa-based government is weak and incapable of establishing the rule of law across Congo, a country the size of Western Europe.

Ethnic fighting is rife in lawless northeast Congo, and Congo's riches there provide a powerful disincentive for armed factions there to give up fighting and yield control to a government. Mistrust between the new government partners, as Nyarugbo said, remains strong.

France, which has taken the lead role in a peace force for the warring northeast province of Ituri, called establishment of the transition government "an important moment" that "should permit the return of a durable peace."

Congo's war started when neighboring Rwanda and Uganda backed Congolese rebels in a bid to overthrow then-President Laurent Kabila, accusing him of harboring armed militias that threatened their own security. Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia entered the war on the government's side.

Peace efforts jumped forward following Kabila's assassination at the hands of one of his young bodyguards. His son, Joseph, took power.

Foreign armies withdrew this year and last under a series of peace deals.

The existing government retains ministries of the interior, security, finance, industry and energy, among others. The Rwanda-allied Congolese Rally for Democracy, the key rebel faction, takes the ministries of defense and economy, among others. The Uganda-backed Congolese Liberian Movement will fill the foreign affairs ministry, budget ministry and others.

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