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New Parliament Inaugurated in DRC - 2003-08-23

A new parliament has been inaugurated in the Democratic Republic of Congo as part of a transitional government hoping to end four years of war. Members of the former government, opposition politicians and former rebel movements are all represented in the two-house parliament that aims to take the country back to democratic elections within two years. Some 500 members of the new assembly and 120 senators crowded into the Peoples Palace in the heart of Kinshasa to hear addresses from the new parliament leaders. It was the first parliamentary session in the capital city since Congo won its independence in the 1960s. The parliament marks the final stage in the establishment of a new transitional government of national reconciliation.

Congo only last month officially put an end to a four-year war that claimed more than three million lives, according to some aid agencies in the country. The peace process had been threatened by disputes over the power sharing arrangements for the army, but the differences were finally resolved this week.

The former government, opposition groups and the two largest former rebel movements are each represented by 94 deputies and 22 senators. Smaller former rebel groups have between 10 and 15 deputies and two and four senators each.

The day after the inaugural session, the new parliament set to work formulating some 60 new pieces of legislation addressing financial, judicial, electoral, and military questions, as well as the politically sensitive issue of immunity and amnesty.

Politicians in the assembly say privately that some sort of political amnesty is necessary to smooth over the transitional process, while the head of the senate, one of the country's most prominent Catholic priests, insists that perpetrators of war crimes and other atrocities should be brought to justice.

With two of the country's four vice presidents coming from the two largest former rebel movements, the issue of amnesty is especially sensitive. Soldiers of both the Rwandan-backed RCD-Goma (Rally for Congolese Democracy) and the Ugandan-backed MLC (Movement for the Liberation of Congo) were notorious for their attacks against key towns in the east of the country and accused of atrocities such as rape, torture, mutilation and even cannibalism.