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DRC Government, Rebels Approve Election Proposal - 2003-03-07

Representatives of the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo and the major rebel groups have approved proposals for a two-year transitional period leading to democratic elections in the war-torn country. The agreement was reached in Pretoria at peace talks aimed at ending four years of civil war in Congo.

The delegates agreed to a draft interim constitution and a memorandum on military and security issues. The documents must be formally adopted by the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo and the leaders of the major rebel groups, in order to establish a multi-party government that will oversee a two-year transition leading to democratic elections.

It is expected that the documents will be formally signed at a meeting to be convened within 15 days by Sir Ketumile Masire, former Botswana president and chairman of the Inter-Congolese dialogue.

The draft constitution provides for a government, led by the current president of Congo, Joseph Kabila, and four prime-ministers, including two from the major rebel groups, the Congolese Rally for Democracy and the Congolese Liberation Movement.

The government also agreed that security in Kinshasa and other major towns will be provided by an international peacekeeping force under the auspices of the United Nations. The military chiefs from the warring parties will meet to plan the restructuring of the various forces into a new national army.

But some observers say many outstanding issues remain. These include procuring funding for the international peacekeeping force and the structuring of the new national army.

Observers also say that continued breaches of the existing cease-fire will also threaten any transitional arrangement. This week, there was renewed fighting in the northeastern town of Bunia between Ugandan forces and a small rebel group.

Some two million people have died since the conflict began, either as a result of the fighting, or from war-related starvation and disease. At its height, the forces of six central and southern African countries were involved in the conflict.

The agreement has been welcomed by the United Nations and the South African government.