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Congo Summit Attempts to Deal with Setbacks to Recent Peace Deal - 2003-04-09

Five African leaders are meeting in Cape Town to discuss threats to the peace process in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The summit comes after the signing of a peace deal coupled with a series of setbacks.

The five heads-of-state were expected to discuss recent developments in the Congolese peace process, as well as rising tensions between the neighboring countries of Rwanda and Uganda.

Congolese President Joseph Kabila is meeting with his adversaries, Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Ugandan leader Yoweri Museveni. The talks are hosted by South African President Thabo Mbeki, who currently chairs the African Union. Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa is also attending.

The summit comes at a crucial time in the Congolese peace process. International relations professor David Monyai of the University of the Witwatersrand said it should be considered "an emergency meeting."

"I think this meeting should be seen as an emergency meeting. I think at a head of state level there was a need for this given the emergent nature of the political situation on the ground," Mr. Monyai said.

Last week, after 19 months of arduous negotiations, all sides signed a peace deal in the South African resort of Sun City. It allowed for the launching of a new constitution, and Mr. Kabila's swearing-in as interim president on Monday.

But just a day after the Sun City accord was signed, hundreds of people were killed in ethnic violence in the Ituri region of eastern Congo. The initial death toll was reported to be nearly 1,000 people, but the United Nations now estimates that between 150 and 300 people died in the attack.

The massacre has exacerbated rising tensions between Rwanda and Uganda, traditional allies whose relationship has steadily deteriorated in recent months. There are fears in the region of new hostilities or even a proxy war between the two countries if the situation is not defused soon.

South African Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad said it is crucial not to let those setbacks derail the entire peace effort. "I think there are still many outstanding challenges, but I think if the international community, including countries who are involved in the region, work together, then where we have setbacks then we can collectively ensure that we deal with that, but not allow it to push the whole process backwards," Mr. Pahad said.

The Cape Town summit marks the first time the leaders of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda have met since the signing of the most recent peace deal. Congolese President Kabila was absent from the signing ceremony in Sun City last week.

In theory, the Sun City accord should lead to democratic elections in about two years.