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Congo Withdrawal Unresolved

Africa: Regional summit ends without a timetable for the departure of foreign forces from the war-torn country.

April 04, 2002|From Reuters

LUSAKA, Zambia — A summit of African leaders trying to get peace talks restarted in Congo ended late Wednesday without a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops from the warn-torn nation.

Six African states have forces in the conflict, but Rwanda and Zimbabwe--which have the largest deployments--have so far failed to agree on a time frame for their departure.

In a communique issued at the end of the meeting in Zambia, the leaders recognized that foreign troops should be withdrawn more quickly but called on the United Nations to deploy peacekeepers simultaneously to prevent a security vacuum.

"The summit noted that encouraging progress achieved earlier in the withdrawal of foreign forces had slowed down," the communique said.

"While acknowledging the need to accelerate this process in a time-bound program . . . the summit also called on the U.N. to deploy peacekeepers with an appropriate mandate in order to prevent the creation of a security gap as foreign forces withdraw."

Diplomats said earlier Wednesday that the summit in Lusaka, Zambia's capital, put pressure on Rwanda and Zimbabwe to withdraw.

The diplomats said a firm commitment was needed from Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Zimbabwe's president, Robert Mugabe, to implement a peace deal.

Congo peace facilitator Ketumile Masire, a former president of Botswana, denied that the Lusaka summit had failed to achieve its objective of setting a definite timetable.

"In principle they agree, but it would be unrealistic to expect a definite program at a summit like this," he told a news conference.

War erupted in 1998 when Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda invaded. Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe came to the defense of the Congolese government, spawning a many-sided conflict that has killed more than 2 million people, most from starvation and disease.

Diplomats said Angola, Burundi and Uganda had indicated that they were ready to complete an unconditional pullout from Congo.

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