- The Washington Times - Friday, March 17, 2000

Diplomats from Congo and neighboring countries involved in what has been called "Africa's first world war" agreed this week that the way out of the conflict is by fully implementing an agreement signed last July in Lusaka, Zambia.
The 19-month-old conflict has raised fears of a prolonged war that could draw in more countries and destabilize much of sub-Saharan Africa.
At a forum at The Washington Times, the first of a series on key international issues, six African ambassadors or their deputies pledged their support for the Lusaka accords.
The agreement calls for a permanent end to hostilities, withdrawal of foreign armies, disarming of rebel forces not party to the accord and a national dialogue to broaden the Congo government.
The only provision implemented to date is a cease-fire, which has been routinely violated. Col. James Baxter, chief of staff of the U.N. mission in Congo, was quoted yesterday in the capital, Kinshasa, voicing concern over new attacks by anti-government rebels in West Kasai province.
Those attending the forum with editors of The Washington Times included Ambassadors Richard Sezibera of Rwanda, Edith Ssempala of Uganda, Simbi Mubako of Zimbabwe and Leonard Iipumbu of Namibia.
Ileka Atoki, deputy chief of Congo's mission to the United Nations, and Henri Simbakwira, deputy chief of mission at the Burundi Embassy, also participated.
Mr. Sezibera of Rwanda, which has acknowledged its forces are fighting in support of rebel groups in Congo, called for strict implementation of the Lusaka accords.
"As far as we are concerned, the region has identified the causes of the conflict in the Congo in the Lusaka peace agreement. We think that if that agreement is implemented … the signatories should be fully committed to it.
"On our part, we're committed to it, and if the other signatories are fully committed to it we think that is a big step forward."
Mr. Ileka of Congo also endorsed the Lusaka agreement.
Asked whether he shared Mr. Sezibera's commitment, he said, "Certainly. We said that in the U.N. and repeated that to Mr. Miyet in Kinshasa." Bernard Miyet is the U.N. undersecretary general for peacekeeping operations.
But Mr. Ileka challenged the notion that Congo President Laurent Kabila is facing an internal uprising, and left no doubt that Congo views the accord as a way to rid the nation of foreign intruders.
"This is not a civil war," declared Mr. Ileka. "It is an invasion."
Mrs. Ssempala of Uganda painted the war as a struggle to avoid a repeat of the sort of genocide that occurred in Rwanda in 1994, and against dictatorship and corruption in Congo.
"Now, in the last century maybe Hitler's Germany and Pol Pot's Cambodia compete with our region in these horrific atrocities," she declared.
Burundi's Mr. Simbakwira said his government in Bujumbura "fully support[s] the Lusaka agreement even if we're not part of it."
Burundi insists that its troops are not involved in the conflict in Congo. But it does acknowledge a troop presence inside Congo for "the protection of our border and to escort our goods" across Lake Tanganyika.
Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda, all troubled by rebellions being waged partly from inside Congo, blame Mr. Kabila for failing to prevent the use of his country as a sanctuary for the rebel armies.
Zimbabwe, represented at the forum by Mr. Mubako, and Namibia, represented by Mr. Iipumbu, both have sent troops to Congo to save Mr. Kabila from being overthrown. Both diplomats saw the accord as a way to attain this objective while allowing their countries to withdraw their forces.
They also cited their membership in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), whose security provisions provide for member countries to send in troops at the invitation of a threatened government.
Angola, also a member of SADC, cites the same authority for intervention, but privately acknowledges more fundamental reasons. Congolese territory during the rule of dictator Mobutu Sese Seko was used as a base to airlift supplies to anti-communist Angolan rebels led by Jonas Savimbi.
No Angolan representative attended the forum at The Times but Francisco da Cruz, Angola's deputy chief of mission in Washington, was later interviewed by telephone.
"We support Lusaka, because we think it is a way for the people of Congo to end the conflict and choose their own leaders," Mr. da Cruz said.
"But there is a weakness in the accords," he added. "Instead of accepting the legitimacy of the Congolese government headed by Mr. Kabila, they put the president and the rebels on an equal footing."
The Lusaka accords were signed by Congo and all governments involved in the conflict. The three main rebel movements opposing Mr. Kabila signed one month later. They provide for:
An end to hostilities by rebel forces whose representatives signed the agreement.
A withdrawal of all foreign forces within six months.
Disarmament and demobilization of rebel forces not signing the accord, among them individuals who participated in the 1994 genocide against Tutsis in Rwanda. None of these forces participated officially in the Lusaka process.
A national dialogue within Congo among the government, political opposition and armed rebels, aimed at creating a broad-based government.
The accords have been largely ignored and fighting has broken out again in recent weeks after a period of calm.
"The renewed fighting in Congo, which is a direct violation of the Lusaka agreement, threatens to leave this important agreement in tatters," warned U.S. Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke on a recent visit to Central Africa.
In May 1997, Mr. Kabila, backed by the same foreign forces that now oppose him, as well as by forces that have come to his rescue, ousted Mr. Mobutu after a seven-month campaign in which his forces swept westward across Congo.
Fifteen months later, Mr. Kabila kicked out his Rwandan and Ugandan advisers, claiming he had discovered a foreign plot against his government. Days after that, rebels based in Goma on the Congo-Rwanda border announced a revolt to remove Mr. Kabila from power.
A spectacular airlift brought rebel elements close to Kinshasa, which had been considered within days of falling until an Angolan intervention reversed the tide. The war has been stalemated since then.
"We fully understand the security concerns of Rwanda and Uganda, but this is no reason to invade Congo," Mr. Ileka said.

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