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UN Peace Envoys to Arrive in DRC Monday - 2002-04-26

With the Democratic Republic of the Congo precariously balancing between a peace settlement and further bloodshed, the U.N. will soon be sending a peace mission to the African country to mediate the crisis.

Security Council envoys are scheduled to arrive in Pretoria Sunday for preliminary briefings, before moving on to the DRC Monday. Their 10-day mission includes eight African countries, Angola, Zimbabwe, Uganda, SAF, DRC, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi

A tentative peace deal was forged last week in South Africa with a call to end the nearly four-year old conflict in the so-called Great Lakes region. The deal, however, was only a partial agreement and was rejected by Rwanda, the DRC's main antagonist, and rebel groups in Burundi.

Diplomats decided to pursue the Congo mission despite the Security Council's current pre-occupation with the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. French Ambassador Jean Levitte says the crisis in the Great Lakes also demands urgent action. He says, if need be, Council envoys can fly back to New York at a moment's notice. "I would remind you that the crisis in the Great Lakes region, according to the NGO's, has created three million deaths in the Democratic Republic of Congo in three years, 200,000 after hostilities and then others when the economic structures and health structures collapsed," he said.

Ambassador Levitte says the Council team is going "in the spirit of dialogue." He says no one will be threatened with sanctions or other punitive action.

The Security Council embarked on a similar mission last year. Diplomats say at this point, more robust intervention is needed to encourage the parties to talk and arrive at a final peace agreement.

The United Nations has peace monitors in Congo. But apparently much of the conflict is taking place in the eastern part of the country between foreign-backed militias and bandits, out of the sight of the monitors.