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Congo Peace Talks Enter Final Week - 2002-04-15

Peace talks between the Democratic Republic of Congo's warring parties in Sun City, South Africa, are now entering their final week. An analyst who has just returned from the talks says the political survival of one of the main rebel groups, the Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD) depends on the outcome of this week's negotiations.

While negotiating at Sun City, the RCD rebel group has also been combatting a mutiny within its own ranks. A section of ethnic Banyamulenge soldiers defected from the RCD two months ago. They attacked the town of Minwembwe, in the highlands of South Kivu, eastern Congo and briefly seized control of the airport.

After weeks of negotiations, the Rwandan army, which backs the RCD, moved in to crush the rebellion. Hundreds of Banyamulenge are reported dead or injured.

Francois Grignon, a political analyst with the International Crisis Group, has just returned from the Sun City talks.

Mr Grignon says the Rwandan army's attack on the Banyamulenge undermines their whole justification for being in the Congo.

Rwanda's Tutsi-dominated regime originally invaded Congo in pursuit of Hutu extremists who carried out the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

The Rwandans also claim to be fighting for the protection of Congolese Tutsis, including the Banyamulenge. "Rwanda's moving in is actually really a disaster, a public relations disaster, a diplomatic disaster. And just a disaster for their claims to be the protectors of any group threatened by genocidal force inside the Congo," he said. "Because if the reports we have about Banyamulenge killings are true, that will mean that the Banyamulenge are not under threat from the Mayi Mayi or from any other so-called negative forces in South Kivu. The real threat is Rwanda."

Mr Grignon says the RCD needs to negotiate a favourable deal at Sun City if they are to retain the support of the Banyamulenge or their Rwandan backers.

"Basically the outcome of the dialogue will decide what is going to happen. Because if the RCD shows that they manage to actually answer the Banyamulenge's concern at the dialogue and they come back with a success from Sun City, they can regain some credibility with the Banyamulenge community in South Kivu," he said. "But if they do not then they will become also useless for Rwanda because they will have lost the dialogue in the eyes of Rwanda and in the eyes of the Banyamulenge, so why support the RCD anymore?"

The Banyamulenge are ethnic Tutsis who started migrating into Congo from Rwanda and Burundi at the end of the 19th century. They originally joined the RCD in large numbers because they were being persecuted by fleeing Rwandan Hutu extremists and local Kivu politicians.

Mr Grignon says the Banyamulenge are looking for guarantees of security and nationality at the inter-Congolese talks.