In an important development at talks on the political future of the Democratic Republic of Congo, government and rebel negotiators have agreed to integrate their military forces. However, the talks have been extended for a week after delegates failed to agree on arrangements for a transitional government.
The agreement to integrate rebel and government military forces has overcome a stumbling block in talks at Sun City in South Africa aimed at ending 3.5 years of civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Still to be agreed on are the size, composition and command structure of the new national army.
Known as the inter-Congolese dialogue, the talks are being facilitated by former Botswana president, Ketumile Masire. The six-week-long talks were scheduled to end Thursday, but Mr. Masire was compelled to extend them a week after delegates failed to reach accord on the most important issue arrangements for a transitional government.
The government and the rebel Congolese Liberation Movement are reported to support a late proposal from South African President Thabo Mbeki that would see President Robert Kabila retain his position. Mr. Mbeki also proposed that the executive be extended by Council of State to be composed of Mr. Kabila and the leaders of the main rebel groups; and, a cabinet of national reconciliation. Reports say the Rwanda-backed Congolese Rally for Democracy has rejected the plan.
Mr. Mbeki's plan provides for a 30-month transitional period followed by a national election. It is apparently modeled on the transitional arrangement, which led to South Africa's first democratic elections in 1994. Under that arrangement, the apartheid government remained in place, but all executive decisions had to be approved by a transitional executive council on which all parliamentary and non-parliamentary parties enjoyed equal representation.
The civil war erupted in 1998 when Uganda and Rwanda invaded the DRC to support rebels fighting to overthrow the government of then-president Laurent Kabila. In response to a call for assistance by Mr Kabila, Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia sent troops to back government forces. At present, government forces control the west and south of Congo, while the various rebel groups control the eastern and northern half of the country.