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Rwanda, Congo to Sign Peace Deal in S. Africa Tuesday - 2002-07-29

The leaders of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo are to sign a deal Tuesday in South Africa that could speed a return to peace in Congo. But there are questions about how the deal will be implemented.

Congolese President Joseph Kabila and Rwandan leader Paul Kagame will meet in Pretoria to sign the deal hammered out earlier this month by their top aides.

South African President Thabo Mbeki, who also heads the new African Union, says he hopes that for the first time, there is a political will to implement a peace agreement in the DRC.

Technically, there has been a cease-fire in place in Congo since 1999, but that agreement has been widely ignored by both sides. Over the years, the conflict has drawn in troops from six foreign countries, with Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi supporting the rebels and Zimbabwe, Angola, and Namibia backing the government.

But the peace deal between Rwanda and Congo has sparked hope that an end to the brutal war might finally be in sight.

The deal includes the withdrawal of the estimated 20,000 Rwandan forces from Congo. It also provides for the deployment of international troops in the DRC to round up the Interahamwe militia and ex-Rwandan soldiers who took part in Rwanda's 1994 genocide.

But analyst Richard Cornwell, who heads the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies, says there are likely to be problems implementing the deal such as capturing the hostile Interahamwe forces while operating under U.N. peacekeeping rules. "We think at least a brigade will be necessary," he said. "And even then it is hard, because under a Chapter 6 mandate from the United Nations, this does not permit the use of force to disarm these people. And it is hard to see why an ex-genocidaire should surrender his weapons and return to Rwanda, where he will face trial for mass murder."

Mr. Cornwell said it is not clear from where the international troops will come. He said South Africa will probably send about 1,000 soldiers. But that is only one third of the minimum size force needed.

Mr. Cornwell also said from what he knows about the deal, implementation is supposed to take 90 days. But he said it will be almost impossible to deploy 3,000 international troops in that time, let alone withdraw 20,000 Rwandan troops.

Mr. Cornwell believes the peace deal is not as important as many people might think. "I think it is significant in that it shows once again that Rwanda is willing to sign deals that it knows its counter-signatories will have no way of fulfilling," he said. "And that is what it signifies to me - it gets them off the hook and, in fact, leaves it in the lap of the United Nations and other parties to fulfill their side of a deal that simply can not be achieved."

Mr. Cornwell said despite the all the optimism, he thinks the Great Lakes region is no closer to peace than it was before the Pretoria deal was reached.