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Congo's Largest Former Rebel Group to Remain in Government - 2004-02-25

Congo's largest former rebel group says it will not withdraw from the country's fragile power-sharing government, following the release of one of its hard-line military officers, who was arrested last week. But political tensions remain high in the wake of shootouts between government loyalists and hard-liners from the country's largest former-rebel group.

The former rebel group, RCD-Goma, had threatened to pull out of President Joseph Kabila's government, following the arrest of Major Joseph Kasongo. He was accused of hiding illegal arms caches in his residence in the eastern town of Bukavu.

The threat to withdraw by the formerly Rwandan-backed rebels caused serious concern in the government, which only last year officially ended a five-year multi-front war that claimed about three million lives.

Throughout February, tensions have been high in the capital of South Kivu province, following shootouts linked to the discovery of hidden weapons caches in the houses of some RCD-Goma hard-liners. The regional military commander of South Kivu, General Prosper Nabyolwa, a pro-government loyalist, arranged the arrest, as part of an effort to rid the town of weapons belonging to RCD-Goma hard-liners.

Tensions persist in Bukavu, with a shootout Monday that forced General Nabyolwa to flee into hiding. Two of his bodyguards and his driver were shot dead, and several of his officers were captured. The general's residence was ransacked.

General Nabyolwa has blamed his deputy, Colonel Jules Mutebuzi, an RCD-Goma officer, for staging a mutiny against the government and attempting to assassinate him. Army and former-rebel officers and soldiers now serve together in the new Congolese army.

Tensions and violence in the country's still lawless east are threatening to slow down attempts by the transitional government to hold elections next year. In the troubled northeastern district of Ituri, attacks against civilians and U.N. troops have increased in the last few weeks. Meanwhile, thousands of Mai Mai tribal warriors throughout the east are refusing to integrate into the new army.

In the capital, Kinshasa, government institutions and parliament remain deadlocked, unable to formulate concrete plans to restore order, plan elections or rebuild the country's shattered infrastructure.