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DRC President Reveals 5-Year Action Plan

Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila has outlined the new transitional government's first peacetime program of action after five years of civil war. But diplomats and analysts say the plan remains thin on detail.

In the People's Palace, the house of parliament in the heart of the capital, Kinshasa, President Kabila presented the program of action and called on politicians to unite in their effort to rebuild the country's infrastructure and reduce poverty.

Mr. Kabila, Africa's youngest president at aged 32, leads a transitional government of national unity that unites the former government with ex-rebel groups backed by neighboring Rwanda and Uganda, and aims to shepherd the country to democratic elections in two years' time.

More than three million lives were lost throughout Congo's conflict, mostly through war-related hunger and disease, and much of the country's infrastructure was left decimated.

Africa's third biggest country is seen as potentially one of the richest on the continent, with a wealth of mineral deposits. But Congo remains broken up, with huge swathes of forest and poor roads blocking access to many parts of the country.

The president outlined the priorities for his new government, which include spending on infrastructure, reconstruction of a new national army, better regional relations, sound economic management and cutting poverty by half by 2015. Money was promised for the agricultural, industrial, energy, transport and telecommunications sectors, as well as for roads, schools, health, water, and electrical supply.

President Kabila insisted that corruption would be tackled and the judicial system supported financially. He also stressed the importance of tackling the deadly HIV/AIDS virus.

Parliament is expected to begin its debate on Mr. Kabila's proposals by the beginning of next week.

Diplomats praised the government for coming up with a general plan of action but criticized it for taking so long to propose any concrete measures, especially over military reform, vital for a country with so many ex-rebel groups and militias.

The increased financial needs for such a program have already been outlined in an International Monetary Fund review for Congo, which calls for increases in taxes and foreign donor pledges.

The government is expected to increase its internal receipts for 2004 by 30 percent, mostly based on increased taxes. But analysts doubt the revenue, which will largely come from taxing 650 odd large companies and from customs duties, can be raised by the expected amount.

Analysts say companies are already suffocating under high rates of tax and red tape, and are likely to avoid paying new taxes through clever accounting. They say customs tax fraud continues to be rife.