African leaders have begun a round of talks in Zambia aimed at speeding up the peace process in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The presidents of Congo, South Africa, Namibia, Rwanda and Zimbabwe are attending the talks in Lusaka, as are the foreign minister of Uganda and the Angolan Defense Minister.

International mediator Ketumile Masire called on all the parties to the Congolese conflict to do everything in their power to implement the 1999 Lusaka peace accord. He also said foreign forces in Congo should live up to their commitment to withdraw.

The talks come after renewed fighting between Congolese government forces and Rwandan-backed rebels sidetracked inter-Congolese peace talks in South Africa. The government and rebels have traded accusations of violating last year's U-N-brokered ceasefire agreement.

The conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which began in 1998, involves the armed forces of six countries. The war has effectively split the country in two and claimed at least two-and-a-half million lives.

(AFP, Reuters)