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UN Team on Tour of African Great Lakes Region - 2002-04-29

A team from the United Nations Security Council has embarked on an eight-nation tour of Africa in a bid to shore up the peace processes in the Great Lakes region.

Fifteen representatives from the U.N. Security Council are visiting nations involved in the ongoing conflicts in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. They are scheduled to meet the presidents of Congo, Zimbabwe, Angola, Uganda, Burundi, Tanzania and Rwanda.

They have started the tour in South Africa, where the group met with President Thabo Mbeki and Deputy President Jacob Zuma. Mr. Zuma is mediating the Burundian peace process, along with President Omar Bongo of Gabon.

The U.N. team also met with representatives of armed rebel groups in Burundi, who have not yet signed on to the peace process.

The U.N. delegation is led by the French ambassador to the United Nations, Jean-David Levitte. He said the U.N. team had a strong message for the armed groups. "They must discuss and engage in the negotiation, and they must join the peace process," he said, "and not tomorrow - now - because time is of the essence. The transition period has started in November. It is now high time for them, for the armed groups, to join the peace process. Tomorrow will be too late."

Ambassador Levitte also said this is a key moment for the peace process in the Democratic Republic of Congo. One of that country's main rebel groups, the Movement for the Liberation of Congo, has entered into a power-sharing agreement with the government. But the other main rebel group, the Rally for Congolese Democracy, has rejected the deal and vowed to keep fighting.

Mr. Levitte urged both sides in the dispute to keep negotiating and to be flexible. He said the U.N. team will urge both sides to follow through on a 1999 peace deal that includes the withdrawal of all foreign troops from the country.