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DRC Peace Talks Move to South Africa - 2001-10-19

Peace talks aimed at ending three years of bloodshed in the Democratic Republic of Congo are to be relocated to South Africa, following the suspension of negotiations in Ethiopia earlier this week.

Talks in Ethiopia were suspended on Wednesday, after only three days, because of a lack of funds and a dispute over who should be represented. South Africa confirmed it has offered to host the Inter-Congolese Dialogue - a key part of a peace plan for Congo that was signed in the Zambian capital, Lusaka, in 1999.

The Congolese government wants to wait a month before resuming negotiations, but the rebels say the talks should restart as soon as possible. Fabienne Hara, co-director of the Africa program for the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, says some members of the government are stalling so as to strengthen their position on the ground.

"The government is obviously trying to buy as much time as possible to consolidate before going into the dialogue, and the rebels are certainly trying to get the dialogue going as soon as possible to avoid that the government consolidate its position - I mean, politically and militarily," Ms. Hara said. "There is a faction within the government that wants to continue the war."

The Inter-Congolese dialogue is to map out a new political order for the Congo, including a transitional government and a timetable for elections. Under the plan, all foreign forces are supposed to withdraw from Congo. Rwanda and Uganda back different rebel groups, while Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia support the government.

Ms. Hara says much of the Lusaka accord has not yet been put into action. She says the continued involvement of foreign forces in the Congo means the various Congolese belligerents cannot negotiate freely because they are, as she puts it," prisoners of foreign interests."

"All the things supposed to happen in Lusaka have not happened yet - real cessation of fighting, real cessation of support to the armed groups and real talks with the Rwandan government on what is needed to make them withdraw," she said. "So long as the foreign agendas interfere with the Congolese agenda, there is no chance for the Inter-Congolese Dialogue to produce any results."

Ms. Hara says only when Congo's neighbors are persuaded to pull out, will the Congolese have the space to chart their own political future.