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British, French FM: Kabila Interested in Pursuing a Peaceful Settlement - 2002-01-23

The British and French foreign ministers have arrived in Kampala, Uganda, as part of four-nation tour of central Africa focused on promoting peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine have made stops in the Congo, Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda to discuss ways of settling what is called Africa's first world war.

The Congo has been torn by ethnic conflict in recent years, and an estimated 2.5 million people have been killed.

The warring factions include rebels backed by Rwanda and Uganda, who control more than half of the Congo. The government of Congolese President Joseph Kabila is supported by troops from Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola.

The British and French diplomats have found the going tough in their talks with government and opposition leaders on how to revive a peace agreement that was signed in Lusaka in 1999, but has been never fully implemented.

They had hoped that Mr. Kabila would make a peace gesture during their visit by disarming some 1,800 militiamen who back his government. Instead, Mr. Kabila told the Europeans he wants Rwandan President Paul Kagame to make the first move.

Still, Mr. Straw said they believe Mr. Kabila would like to pursue a peaceful settlement. "We had a long and useful meeting with President Kabila," he stressed. "We discussed all elements of the Lusaka peace process, disarmament, retreat of foreign forces, internal dialogue, and we believe there is a real political willingness on his part to push the peace process forward."

One man who remains to be convinced of President Kabila's good intentions is rebel leader Adolphe Onusumba of the Rally for Congolese Democracy based in the eastern Congolese city of Goma. He met the British and French officials in Kigali, Rwanda.

Mr. Onusumba says he has proof that Mr. Kabila is supporting Hutu tribal militias against his Rwanda-backed organization.

Despite the tough positions they have heard, the European officials say they are optimistic that with enough outside pressure and support, the differences between the Congolese factions gradually can be overcome.

British and French officials say they are committed to sustained cooperation in their push for peace in the region.