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Praise for Namibia Pullout from Congo - 2001-09-03

Namibia's announcement that it has withdrawn its forces from the Democratic Republic of Congo is being praised by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. The withdrawal of Namibian forces is one small step in the long road to peace in Congo.

Of the five foreign nations involved in the Congolese civil war, Namibia had the smallest contingent, with 2,000 soldiers.

Namibia entered the war in defense of the Congolese government, along with Zimbabwe and Angola. In return for their support, the three nations have received concessions in Congo's rich mineral deposits.

Angola became involved in the war primarily over security interests, seeking to have the Kinshasa government as its ally in battling Angolan rebels. Angola has not disclosed how many troops it has on Congolese territory.

Zimbabwe's forces in Congo are estimated to be 12,000 strong. Neither Angola nor Zimbabwe has set a timeline for withdrawal.

Uganda and Rwanda got involved on the side of Congolese rebels. The war started in 1998 after the two countries accused Congo of allowing Ugandan and Rwandan rebels to operate on its soil. Uganda has announced it has pulled out most of the battalions it had deployed in Congo. Rwanda has said it will keep its forces in Congo as long as the threat of cross-border militia attacks persists.

Secretary Annan praised the Ugandan and Namibian pullouts as signs that there has been progress in the moves toward peace. In remarks after a meeting Sunday with Congolese President Joseph Kabila, Mr. Annan urged other nations to withdraw their forces.

The withdrawal of foreign troops is a key element of the 1999 Lusaka peace accord. Congolese government officials, members of the unarmed opposition, and rebels are scheduled to meet in Ethiopia next month to begin a national dialogue.

Mr. Annan is to visit Rwanda after stopping in the rebel-held eastern Congolese city of Kisangani.