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Bush Supports Mbeki Congo Peace Effort - 2002-05-09

President Bush called South African President Thabo Mbeki Thursday to express U.S. support for the African leader's efforts to end the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. President Mbeki is hosting another round of talks for Congolese groups seeking to expand a planned transitional government.

The South African leader began "informal talks" in Cape Town to broaden a power-sharing agreement reached on the sidelines of talks last month in Sun City.

That deal between the Kinshasa government of Joseph Kabila and Ugandan-backed rebels who control most of northern Congo did not include rebels in Eastern Congo who are sponsored by Rwanda.

President Mbeki is meeting with those Rwandan-backed rebels and a dozen opposition parties and civic groups who refused to sign the deal.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer says President Bush telephoned Mr. Mbeki Thursday to thank him for his work thus far and encourage him to push ahead with a more comprehensive peace plan.

"The president thanked President Mbeki for his leadership in hosting talks among the Congolese in Sun City, South Africa," he said. "The president expressed his support for President Mbeki's continued efforts in Cape Town this week to help the Congolese reach an agreement on the composition of a transitional government."

The exclusion of Rwandan-backed rebels could spark more fighting in Congo's four-year civil war. The deal between the government and Ugandan-backed rebels give both groups senior roles in a future transitional government ahead of what would be the country's first free elections since independence from Belgium in 1960.

Mr. Fleischer says the president believes the only solution for Congo is a more inclusive deal involving all parties to the conflict. "He noted South Africa can build on the progress made in Sun City between the Congo government and many of the other parties and reaffirmed the need for an inclusive agreement," he said.

South African officials say all the groups, including Congo's government, agree the informal talks should continue. But both the Congo government and the Ugandan-backed rebels boycotted Thursday's talks in Cape Town.