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Congo Peace Talks Suspended - 2002-02-26

Talks in South Africa aimed at ending the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo have been suspended because of a dispute between the rebels and the government. The organizers hope the Inter-Congolese Dialogue will resume Wednesday.

The talks broke down less than a day after they formally opened in the resort town of Sun City, about 150 kilometers northwest of Johannesburg.

The dispute appears to center around a group of delegates who are supposed to represent opposition political parties. The rebel groups believe they are government supporters in disguise.

The facilitator of the Inter-Congolese Dialogue, former Botswanan President Ketumile Masire, says he is working to resolve the dispute. He says the talks will resume once an agreement is reached.

Mr. Masire told reporters both sides spent much of the day locked in negotiations over the matter. Congolese President Joseph Kabila met face to face with rebel leaders Jean-Pierre Bemba and Adolphe Onusumba.

A South African government spokesman says South African President Thabo Mbeki has been mediating.

This is the issue believed to have kept Mr. Bemba, the leader of the rebel Congolese Liberation Movement, away from the opening ceremony Monday. Mr. Bemba had originally threatened to boycott the talks entirely, but at the last moment decided to attend.

He refused to attend the official opening ceremony, which was delayed by several hours as delegates wrangled over last-minute problems.

More than 300 delegates are attending the talks, representing the government, political parties, rebel groups, and civil society.

The Congolese civil war has claimed roughly 2.5 million lives since it erupted in 1998. It has sucked in six foreign armies. Zimbabwe, Angola, and Namibia have sent troops to support the government, while Rwanda, Uganda and, to a lesser extent, Burundi have been backing the rebels.

U.N.-sponsored peace talks include those foreign governments, but the Inter-Congolese Dialogue is aimed at giving the Congolese people a voice in the future of their own country.

The last round of inter-Congolese talks held in Addis Ababa collapsed after donors failed to come up with funding. The South African government is footing most of the bill for this round.