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DRC Residents Not Hopeful Over Peace Talks to Resolve Civil War - 2002-04-19


People in the Democratic Republic of Congo's capital, Kinshasa, are expressing pessimism amid a continuing deadlock in talks aimed at mapping out the political future of the Congo in Sun City, South Africa. The talks spilled into Friday, with government officials, rebel groups, and members of the unarmed opposition working to break an impasse on a power-sharing agreement that would end nearly four years of civil war.

The talks started in late February. Since then, patience has been growing thin among a people who are weary of fighting that has devastated Congo's economy and divided its territory into three parts.

Two main factions of rebels, the Rwandan-backed Rally for Congolese Democracy, the RCD, and the Ugandan-backed Movement for the Liberation of Congo, known as the MLC, currently control about half of the country's territory. Rebel-controlled areas include the diamond and mineral-rich north and east.

With no comprehensive agreement signed in Sun City, many people on the streets of Kinshasa said they saw the talks as a failure.

In the capital's bustling working-class Matonge district, 35-year-old Kanza Salaman, a government employee, tried to make the best of the state of affairs. He said a partial agreement announced earlier this week allowing Joseph Kabila to stay on as a transitional president, was a sign of hope. Mr. Salaman was booed by a group of passersby as he spoke to a reporter.

"Our president has done everything to bring peace to Congo. Since one rebel group has said it will accept that Joseph Kabila stays as a leader during the transition, that is a step forward. The talks are not a failure," Mr. Salaman said.

Twenty-six-year-old Jean Kamuabu, a street vendor, expressed a view that appeared be a more common one in Matonge, saying he is disappointed that after nearly two months of talks, there was still no comprehensive agreement. He says he is tired of dealing with the effects that the war has had on his day-to-day living.

"Our economic situation is catastrophic. People are not making enough to eat well. Transport is expensive and difficult. In any case, everything is difficult. We had hoped that with what was happening in Sun City a solution could be found. What have they produced?" Mr. Kamuabu said.

The war in Congo - formerly known as Zaire - broke out in 1998, the year after then-rebel leader Laurent Kabila's forces toppled Mobutu Sese Seko, who had ruled the country for more than three decades. The insurgence against Mr. Kabila's government erupted shortly after, with Rwanda and Uganda supporting the rebels. Troops from Zimbabwe, Angola, and Namibia, and other nations in the region intervened in support of the Kabila government.

Laurent Kabila, who had been blamed by some for refusing to negotiate with the rebels, was assassinated last year. He was succeeded by his son, Joseph Kabila, who has been credited with opening the dialogue for peace.

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