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Rebel Leader Azarias Ruberwa to Become One of DRC's Vice Presidents - 2003-07-16


The leader of the largest rebel group in the Democratic Republic of Congo has arrived in the country's capital, Kinshasa, after several days of uncertainty. He will take his place as one of four vice presidents in a new transitional government that is to be put in place on Thursday to end Congo's four-year war and plan elections.

The leader of the Rwandan-backed Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD-Goma), Azarias Ruberwa, arrived on Wednesday at N'Djili airport in the capital.

He was received by members of other rebel groups as well as delegates of the United Nations mission in Congo, before being whisked into the city to be welcomed by President Joseph Kabila at the presidential palace. In a brief statement, Mr. Ruberwa said his arrival marks the effective end of war in the Congo and that the transitional process for a new government has begun.

Mr. Ruberwa's arrival comes a day after the arrival of Jean-Pierre Bemba, leader of the Ugandan-backed Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC). Both rebel leaders will be sworn-in on Thursday as vice presidents in a new transitional government hoping to lead the country back to democratic elections in two years.

There had been uncertainty over Mr. Ruberwa's arrival, as the RCD-Goma had upset government politicians by unilaterally declaring control of three military regions several days ago.

But the issue of military regions was worked out in a last-minute compromise that left RCD-Goma with control of two regions. The government will take three regions. Last month it had penciled itself in for control of six of the ten regions.

RCD-Goma has consistently been seen as the biggest thorn in the government's side. Clashes between government-backed forces and RCD-Goma troops in the east of the country had soured negotiations for the new government, as had squabbling between RCD-Goma and the government over the sharing of posts in the armed forces.

Mr. Ruberwa's arrival did not have the same fanfare as the arrival of Mr. Bemba on Wednesday. Hundreds of civilians had crowded into the airport to greet the MLC leader. In contrast Mr. Ruberwa was only welcomed by politicians and U.N. officials.

Although the RCD-Goma is the largest rebel group, its popularity is relatively low in the capital because the movement is seen as subordinate to Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who has supported ethnic Hema rebels in the northeastern town of Bunia, where a French-led multinational force took charge several weeks ago.

Meanwhile, Mr. Bemba gave his first public press statement in his riverside mansion in the capital today. As a wealthy businessman, he is seen as an obvious candidate for the vice presidency in charge of economic and financial affairs. He emphasized his commitment to International Monetary Fund and World Bank principles, before promising that those members of his brigade found guilty of atrocities would be punished.

Last year, MLC soldiers were accused of cannibalizing pygmy tribes, and Mr. Bemba himself is wanted by an international Belgian court for the human trafficking of domestic servants for his mansion in Brussels.

But with the two rebel leaders finally in Kinshasa, and two other civilian vice presidents already chosen for the transitional government, the swearing in ceremony is set to go ahead on Thursday, with the new government's first cabinet meeting planned for Saturday.

Congo's war, which has claimed more than three million lives, has been fueled by Rwanda and Uganda which have supported various rebel groups and ethnic militias in their bid to control the mineral rich eastern part of Congo.

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