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DRC Reconcilation Talks Stall Over Composition of National Army - 2003-06-03

As a multi-national force prepares to move into eastern Congo a transitional government of national reconciliation is being prepared in the capital, Kinshasa. The goal is to put an end to Congo's four-year civil war, but negotiations are stalled over the composition of the national army.

In recent weeks Congo has caught the world's attention. Stories of brutal violence between ethnic Hema and Lendu militias involving child soldiers, machete attacks, and even cannibalism have highlighted the intense nature of Congo's security problems.

Violence has been plaguing the northeastern province of Ituri since the beginning of May, after Uganda withdrew its forces from the area.

But even as a multi-national force prepares to land in Ituri's principal town, Bunia, to put an end to the fighting, there are delays in the effort to form a transitional government to tackle Congo's broader problems.

Officials of the government and two rebel factions are working to implement a peace accord reached in Sun City in South Africa in February of last year. But in the past two weeks, squabbling over the composition of the new national army has stalled the preparations for a power-sharing government to lead the country to elections in two years.

Both rebel groups, the Rally for Congolese Democracy, known as RCD-Goma, and the Movement for the Liberation of Congo, known as the MLC, are upset over the government's plans to name the heads of the army, navy, and air force, and to retain control of six of Congo's 10 regions.

The government has offered RCD-Goma the right to name the Defense Minister and control of one region. The MLC has been offered two regions, but it wants its candidate installed in the top post in the army.

RCD-Goma delegates left the negotiating table nine days ago to return to their base in Goma in the east of the country. South African President Thabo Mbeki convinced them to resume talks Wednesday in Kinshasa.

But RCD-Goma spokesmen have said that they will not change their demands, and that this will be the last time they come back to the negotiating table. The MLC will also participate in the talks, but it is keeping its intentions quiet.

In the meantime, relations between RCD-Goma and the government have been further eroded by reports of fighting between RCD-Goma forces and Hutu extremists supported by the government in the eastern province of North Kivu. RCD-Goma officials accuse the government of undermining the whole peace process.

Western analysts in Congo say the new fighting and the apparently deep disagreements over the new government, it is difficult to see how the Congo peace process can be put back on track, even with an international peacekeeping force on the way to try to solve one of the country's problems.