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Rwanda, Congo Sign Peace Agreement in South Africa - 2002-07-30

The presidents of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo have signed a landmark peace deal in the South African capital. They and other African leaders believe the agreement could lead to a wider peace in the region, but some analysts are not so sure.

A feeling of confidence and muted celebration dominated the atmosphere at the Presidential guest house in Pretoria as Rwandan President Paul Kagame and his Congolese counterpart, Joseph Kabila, signed a deal they hope will finally bring peace to their two countries.

The two men shook hands and smiled broadly after signing the accord, which took weeks of negotiations to produce. The deal, they say, provides both for the security of Rwanda and the restoration of Congo's national sovereignty.

It requires Rwanda to withdraw its estimated 20,000 troops from the DRC, four years after they invaded in search of militants and ex-soldiers who took part in Rwanda's 1994 genocide. It also requires Congo, helped by international peacekeepers, to round up and disarm those same militants, known as Interahamwe.

But many analysts have expressed doubts about whether the agreement can actually be implemented on the timeline laid out in the deal. For example, many security and military specialists say it will be very hard for Congolese forces to track down and disarm the Rwandan militants.

But Congolese President Joseph Kabila said his army has the capacity to do so. If there is any delay in implementing the peace deal, he said, it will not be the fault of Congo.

"There will be ups and downs in implementing this particular agreement," he said. "But I count on the determination of the government of the Congo, the people of the Congo and the people of the region to find peace. There will not be any problem without a solution."

Mr. Kabila said he and the Congolese people are determined to live in peace with all of the country's neighbors.

His Rwandan counterpart, Mr. Kagame, said the Pretoria deal paves the way for the people of Congo, Rwanda and the entire region to live in peace and begin to rebuild their nations.

Mr. Kagame urged the international community to support the two countries' move toward peace especially, he hinted, the Western nations whose own past actions have contributed to the current problems in the DRC.

"If they came on board and supported these efforts, we shall be able to move forward," he said. "Because it's important that since some of them have historically been part of the problem, they cannot escape the responsibility of being part of the solution."

There are still many questions that need to be answered before the peace deal can actually be implemented. For example, the roughly 3,000 international troops who are supposed to help enforce it will need to be recruited and deployed.

The United Nations has agreed to facilitate that process, but it will require a change in the mandate of the U.N. force known as MONUC, currently already operating in Congo. MONUC will need to become a full-fledged peacekeeping mission.

Despite doubts in some quarters about implementation, South African President Thabo Mbeki believes the deal between Rwanda and Congo will be a stepping stone to a more comprehensive peace in the region.

"I am quite confident that movement will also be achieved with regard to processes leading to an interim government in the Congo, a transitional government, as an important step towards the process that must end with democratic elections," President Mbeki said.

The Rwandan and Congolese leaders plan to meet every 30 days to assess their progress toward full implementation of the peace deal. That way, Mr. Mbeki said, they can iron out any problems before they become serious enough to destroy the accord and the good will that currently exists between the two sides.