Power-sharing government meets in session

Saturday, July 26, 2003

KINSHASA, Congo -- Congo's transitional power-sharing government met for the first time Friday, heightening hopes for the end of nearly five years of war in the vast central African country.

President Joseph Kabila presided over the meeting that was attended by the four vice presidents named in December: the leaders of the two main rebel groups; an ally of Kabila's; and a member of the country's unarmed political opposition.

The government's first session was originally scheduled for July 19, but was postponed because Congo's main rebel groups refused to swear allegiance to Kabila.

The boycotters finally took a reworded oath on Thursday, pledging loyalty to Kabila, the government and country's laws as well.

High on the agenda for the government's first meeting was the continued violence in northeastern Congo.

Medecins sans Frontieres, the French-based relief group also known as Doctors Without Borders, said Friday that nighttime killings, rapes and abductions have terrorized the population of Bunia, the region's main city, despite a French-led emergency force in place since early June.

The volatility in northeastern Congo poses one of the new government's most difficult hurdles as it aims to lead the country to elections within the next year.

Congo's war, which has killed an estimated 3.3 million people through violence, starvation and disease, erupted in 1998 when neighboring Rwanda and Uganda backed Congolese rebels trying to overthrow then-President Laurent Kabila, accusing him of harboring armed militias that threatened their own security.

Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia stepped in on the government's side.

Kabila was assassinated in January 2001 by one of his own bodyguards and was succeeded by his son, Joseph, who pushed ahead with peace efforts, eventually leading to the withdrawal of foreign armies from the country.

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