- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 31, 2002

PRETORIA, South Africa The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo and the country's main rebel groups moved closer to a peace accord at talks in Pretoria this week after the rebels made a concession on power-sharing in the war-torn Central African state.

The Uganda-backed Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC) dropped its objections to the appointment of four vice presidents one of them from government ranks to help President Joseph Kabila run the country during a two-year political transition period.

The MLC previously said this would give Mr. Kabila too much power, and the U.N.-led talks had been deadlocked on the issue since Saturday.

"In the interest of the Congo, we have decided to accept the principle of four vice presidents, but we have attached some conditions to this. The government must now respond," MLC Secretary-General Olivier Kamitatu said Tuesday.

The delegates are negotiating all aspects of power-sharing, including which ministries will be controlled by each of the three warring parties.

The Rwanda-backed Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD) sided with its fellow rebels.

"The government must accept to share power at every level, in the executive, the Cabinet and the provinces. But they have a problem with that," said RCD Secretary-General Azarias Ruberwa.

The government said the rebels' acceptance of four vice presidents was a breakthrough, but in the same breath pleaded for more time on the finer points of the deal, saying its delegates were unprepared.

"We are leaving for Kinshasa" to consult the country's leaders, Congolese government delegate Vital Kamerhe said Tuesday evening.

U.N. special envoy Moustapha Niasse, the chief mediator, said the talks would resume tomorrow with written responses from the government and the RCD rebels to the MLC proposal.

He added that the mediators would explain the situation to representatives of Congolese civil society, the pro-government Mai Mai militia, opposition politicians and rebel splinter groups who are due to join the talks later.

"This is a breakthrough. But the matters they want to discuss are very important. We need a break of at most 48 hours to get a mandate from Kinshasa. We need to consult with President Kabila," said Bene M'Poko, Kinshasa's ambassador in Pretoria.

Mr. M'Poko added that the rebels' demands for control of certain ministries and government institutions were impractical.

"You cannot divide a country like a cake," he said.

A U.N. official said the rebel conditions would drag out the talks beyond tomorrow's original deadline, but added: "At least now they are of the same mind on the leadership. We think we can resolve this as well with a little more time."

Kinshasa, the MLC, RCD and splinter rebel groups have bickered for more than a year about how to share power and steer the former Zaire to its first elections since independence from Belgium in 1960. The rebels demanded political power to match military gains they made in six years of war.

War broke out in 1996, when Rwanda invaded in pursuit of the ethnic-Hutu militia that carried out the 1994 genocide targeting ethnic Tutsis in that country. It did so again in 1998 to back a rebellion to oust President Laurent Kabila, the current president's father, and the insurgency grew into Africa's biggest war, drawing in seven countries and killing an estimated 2.5 million people.Fighting intensified in eastern Congo since Oct. 5, when Rwanda withdrew the last of its troops. The fighting pitted the RCD rebels against the pro-Kinshasa Mai Mai militia and a RCD splinter group, and strained the peace accord between Rwanda and the Congo.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame accused Mr. Kabila, whom he is supposed to meet here in Pretoria tomorrow, of reneging on a peace accord signed by the two heads of state in July in Pretoria.

Mr. Kagame also has threatened to send his troops back into the Congo, which a source close to the Mai Mai says he has already done.

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