- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 31, 2002

President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and his Congolese counterpart, Joseph Kabila, signed an accord yesterday intended to end the four-year Congo conflict, which has drawn in six African armies and cost 2 million lives.

The accord, signed in Pretoria, South Africa, boils down to two promises a commitment by Mr. Kabila to round up, disarm and ship back Rwandan enemies of the present Kigali government in return for a pledge by Mr. Kagame to remove his 20,000-member army from Congo.

Rwanda estimates that there are as many as 50,000 anti-Rwandan forces in the field.

In Washington, deputy State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said the United States believes "that this agreement is an important step forward in resolving the long-standing conflict in the Congo."

A U.S. delegation flew to Congo this week to help in the hunt for leaders of the Rwandan rebels, many of whom are wanted in connection with a genocidal rampage in Rwanda in 1994.

The United States has offered rewards of as much as $5 million for information leading to the arrest of eight prime suspects believed to be hiding in Congo or its much smaller neighbor, Republic of Congo, according to Reuters news agency .

Rwandan Ambassador Richard Sezibera said yesterday that the new agreement "goes to the heart of the problem."

An earlier, failed peace agreement negotiated in Lusaka, Zambia, called for the "pullout of all foreign forces and disarming of various militias, or negative forces, as they were called," Mr. Sezibera said in an interview. "This is a more focused undertaking."

Patrick Mazimhaka, Rwanda's prinicipal negotiator at the talks in South Africa that produced the new deal, said he was hopeful this agreement would be successful.

"Central to the accord is the question of whether the Congolese government has the will to disarm forces led by those who committed the 1994 genocide in our country and who continue to seek our destruction," he said during a visit to Washington.

A basic assumption of the new agreement, according to Mr. Mazimhaka, is that resolving the dispute between Rwanda and Congo will leave no reason for the other foreign armies to remain there.

At its peak, the war involved troops from Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia in support of the Congolese government, and was waged against rebels backed by Rwanda, Uganda and, more quietly, Burundi.

In Pretoria, South African President Thabo Mbeki pledged that his country would send troops to Congo to help implement the accord.

"When we receive that request formally, I have no doubt we will respond positively," he told reporters.

Mr. Kabila declared it "the duty of the United Nations and particularly the U.N. Security Council to become involved. It is up to the international community to support us in every way."

Mr. Kagame called on "my African brothers and sisters to stand together with the people of Rwanda and the" Democratic Republic of Congo.

The most significant event accounting for the accord yesterday was the defection to the government side of Uganda's Congolese rebel allies, led by Jean-Pierre Bemba, reportedly with the promise that Mr. Bemba would become vice president.

The most important rebel force remaining is the Rwandan-backed Rally for Congolese Democracy (RDC), led by Adolphe Onusumba.

Talks between the government and the RDC are expected to begin next week, with the intention of bringing the rebels into a broadened transitional government.


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