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African Presidents To Meet To Discuss DRC - 2003-04-08

The presidents of five African countries are meeting Wednesday in Cape Town to discuss recent threats to the peace process in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Last week, nearly a thousand people were massacred in eastern Congo just a day after the signing of a peace accord.

The Cape Town meeting will be Congolese President Joseph Kabila's first meeting with his adversaries from Rwanda and Uganda since his swearing-in as the leader of the D-R-C transitional government on Monday.

The Congolese president is scheduled to hold two hours of talks with Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Ugandan leader Yoweri Museveni. In addition to the three Great Lakes nations who have participated in the war, the Cape Town summit will be attended by the presidents of two observer countries - South Africa and Tanzania.

The five leaders will discuss rising tensions in the Great Lakes region, which threaten to derail the ongoing attempt to form a transitional government in Congo.

The United Nations is currently investigating the slaughter of nearly one-thousand people in an outbreak of ethnic violence in the Ituri region of eastern Congo last week. Various factions are trading allegations of responsibility for the killings.

In a controversial move, the French news agency A-F-P reports, Uganda has sent more troops into Congo following the massacre, although the recently signed peace deal requires the withdrawal of foreign troops from the country.

South African Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad says the timing of the Ituri massacre - just a day after the signing of the latest peace accord - is particularly unfortunate.

He says, "Coming so soon in the wake of the agreements, it can create absolute tensions and suspicions and has the potential to set us back. And this is why the summit is very timely, so that these heads of states who are directly involved in these processes can begin to see how we can collectively tackle it."

The latest peace agreement was signed last week in the South African resort Sun City after 19 months of negotiations. It allowed for the issuing of a new constitution Friday and for Monday's swearing-in of Mr. Kabila as the interim president. The plan is to hold democratic elections within two years.

But progress toward peace on paper has not necessarily translated into peace on the ground. Ethnic violence has continued in eastern Congo, with the Ituri massacre being the most recent and most extreme incident.

Tensions between Rwanda and Uganda have also been rising in recent months. There has even been talk that a new war could break out between the two traditional allies.

Deputy Minister Pahad says the international community must push for peace in the Great Lakes now, before the opportunity is lost.

He says, "Clearly, for some time now the tensions have been quite high…. Tomorrow's meeting at heads-of-states level should try to identify what are the outstanding problems that continue to lead to tension? Because we have the signatures now, we have everybody agreed, we have an interim administration in place. Time for the foreign troops to leave, time to handle the non-statutory forces, and time for the U-N to play a more proactive role governing the whole country."

In a separate development also affecting the Great Lakes region, South African officials say a new African peacekeeping force will be deploying in Burundi soon - possibly within a week.

The peacekeepers will come from South Africa, Ethiopia and Mozambique, and they will initially be under South African command.