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Hopes Rise for Congo Peace Deal - 2003-04-01

Hopes are rising for an agreement that may bring an end to the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. All parties at the final session of the inter-Congolese dialogue in South Africa have endorsed transitional power-sharing agreements for Congo. However, one obstacle remains: there is still no agreement on a new national army.

After official approval of the agreements by Joseph Kabila, the incumbent president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, a transitional power sharing government headed by Mr. Kabila will come into force. The agreements, known as "The Final Act," require that four vice presidents - three from the main warring parties and one from the unarmed political opposition, form part of Mr. Kabila's new cabinet.

It is expected that the transition will last two and a half years, after which democratic elections must be held. They would be the first in Congo since independence elections in 1960.

The Final Act also includes a transitional constitution and a partial agreement on defense and security. But the parties have not yet agreed on how to merge the various rebel armies and the national army or on who will lead a new national army.

The agreements will be signed Wednesday by the parties in the presence of several African leaders and must be formally approved by President Kabila within three days thereafter. It remains uncertain whether Mr. Kabila will attend the signing ceremony, which is taking place at a resort west of Johannesburg.

Some two and a half million Congolese died in the war. The adoption of the agreements by all the parties marks the conclusion of stop-start peace negotiations which began in October 1998, just months after the start of hostilities. The current initiative was launched 14 months ago and entailed peace talks mediated by South Africa and the United Nations.

One of the features of the initiative, which was facilitated by the former president of Botswana, Sir Ketumile Masire, was a national dialogue that involved representatives of civil society and non-belligerent political parties.

Sir Ketumile welcomed the adoption of the agreements, saying the delegates were making history. But United Nations mediator Mousthpha Niasse warned that implementation of the agreements will take much effort and commitment from all the parties. The work of the peacemakers is at an end, he said, adding that it is now time for the Congolese to do things for themselves.