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Congo, Rwanda Promise to Adhere to Peace Accord - 2004-06-25

The presidents of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda have re-iterated their pledge to abide by a peace deal signed between the two countries in 2002 amid renewed tensions threatening a return to war in central Africa.

The pledge by Congo President Joseph Kabila and his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame came after several hours of talks Friday at the airport in Nigeria's capital, Abuja.

Nigerian officials said the two leaders had recommitted themselves to the 2002 accord signed in South Africa and that a new verification team would be established to make sure it is being respected.

The peace deal secured the withdrawal of Rwandan troops from Congo's mineral-rich eastern region. It also calls on Congo's new army to expel or disarm ethnic Hutu fighters who took part in Rwanda's genocide in 1994.

Earlier this month, Rwanda accused Congo of continuing to harbor the Hutu extremists, while the government in Kinshasa blamed Rwanda for backing a new insurgency led by ethnic Tutsi dissident soldiers in eastern Congo.

A spokeswoman for United Nations peacekeepers in the Congolese border town of Bukavu, Elia Nabaa, says the region is very tense.

"We really hope that this meeting will end up in decreasing the tension between the two countries," she said. "The peace process can be at threat with the new crisis and I think the international community doesn't want this at all. We all hope that this will help dissuade any new insurgents to create a new crisis."

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo mediated the talks. His spokeswoman Remi Oyo says his regional influence can make a difference to prevent a repeat scenario of Congo's two previous wars which started during the 1990s, when Rwandan troops backed rebel forces and invaded its eastern territory.

"Of course President Obasanjo is held in high esteem in Africa and the world," the spokeswoman said. "So this is a good opportunity for him to reconcile areas of Africa where there are problems."

The leader of the insurgents in eastern Congo, General Laurent Nkunda, a former member of Rwanda's army and former Congolese rebel, says he will fight back if he is attacked. He has called on U.N. peacekeepers to create a buffer zone around his bases where he retreated earlier this month after controlling the town of Bukavu for about one week.

The crisis escalated when Congo's President Kabila sent thousands of troop reinforcements to eastern Congo, vowing to, in his words, "crush the insurgency." This alarmed Rwanda, which saw it as a threat to its own security.