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Congo Reaches Landmark Deal to End 4 Year Civil War - 2002-12-17

The warring parties in the Democratic Republic of Congo have reached a landmark peace deal to end their four-year-old civil war. The power-sharing agreement is supposed to pave the way to the country's first democratic elections since independence.

Some 70 negotiators signed the deal in the early hours of the morning. It comes after months of often-tense negotiations in the South African capital, Pretoria.

The power-sharing agreement will see a transitional government led by President Joseph Kabila, who will retain his office until elections can be held in about two and a half years.

He will have four vice presidents, one each from his ruling party, the political opposition, and each of the two main rebel groups, the Rwanda-backed Rally for Congolese Democracy, or RCD, and the Uganda-backed Movement for the Liberation of Congo, or MLC.

All sides, including civic groups, have also agreed on how to divide key cabinet posts between them. The MLC rebels will take the presidency of the National Assembly. Citizens' groups will choose the leader of the Senate.

This is the most comprehensive peace deal ever signed in the Congolese civil war. All the major factions are on board, including militia groups and the Mayi-Mayi tribal fighters who have foiled several previous cease-fire attempts.

The deal allows the various rebel leaders to have up to 15 bodyguards to protect them as they take up their new jobs in Kinshasa. An expanded U.N. security force recently approved by the Security Council will help enforce the truce.

All sides have expressed their joy at finally reaching an agreement. But spokesmen for the two key rebel groups and the government say only its implementation will decide whether the peace will hold. Rebel leaders say it will require political commitment from all sides.

A committee is supposed to work out the implementation details that have not been specifically laid out in the agreement.

The biggest challenge is likely to be integration of the armed rebel forces and the national military.

If it is implemented, the deal could end a war that has dragged on since 1998 and claimed more than two million lives. Peace efforts gained momentum after Joseph Kabila assumed the presidency slightly less then two years ago, after the assassination of his father, Laurent Kabila. At its height, the conflict had sucked in six neighboring countries, but most of the foreign troops have already withdrawn.