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New Congo Peace Talks Scheduled - 2002-09-09

Government officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo and rebel leaders are to begin another round of peace talks later this month to end the country's four-year civil war.

The talks are designed to resolve political issues that remained following a meeting between Congo officials and rebel leaders earlier this year in Sun City, South Africa.

Speaking to members of Congo's transitional parliament in the southern city of Lubumbashi on Saturday, President Joseph Kabila announced the talks would get under way later this month.

He named no specific date.

Mr. Kabila urged all political groups to come together for the new round of negotiations, which he said are necessary to consolidate the peace process that is now under way.

The war in the former Zaire has been going on since 1998, when Uganda and Rwanda sent troops to help Congolese rebels in their bid to oust the Kinshasa government. Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia all deployed troops to support the Congolese government. What resulted is what has been called "Africa's World War," which by some estimates has resulted in the deaths of two million people.

Rwanda, which has about 20,000 troops in Congo, has yet to carry out a withdrawal as agreed in an accord signed by Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Mr. Kabila earlier this year.

But there have been concrete steps in the peace process recently. Uganda has withdrawn nearly half of its 4,000 troops from Congolese soil. The Kampala government and President Kabila on Friday signed an accord in the Angolan capital, Luanda, in which Uganda has agreed to complete its withdrawal by the end of this year.

In turn, Congolese officials say their government has promised to use its forces to stop Ugandan rebels from operating on Congolese territory.

Congolese officials believe that since progress on the military aspect of the war is well under way, President Kabila is now addressing the political side of the war.

Talks in Sun City this year produced a series of accords among members of Congo's unarmed opposition, the government and one rebel faction, the Movement for the Liberation of Congo. But the main rebel group, the Congolese Democracy Rally, rejected the agreements.

With accords now signed with the main foreign players in the war, Uganda and Rwanda, the Congolese government is now working to get all political foes within the country to settle their differences. The new round of talks will focus largely on planning the next steps toward the holding of free and fair elections.

Members of the Bush administration have praised the Congolese leader's efforts to end the war.

President Kabila is preparing to travel this week to the United States, where he plans to meet with President George W. Bush.