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Deadlock Leaves Congo Peace Talks in Disarray

April 21, 2002|From Times Wire Services

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — The future of talks aimed at ending Congo's 3 1/2-year war was thrown into confusion Saturday after negotiations deadlocked over the makeup of a new government and a temporary constitution.

Contradictory reports came from former Botswana President Ketumile Masire, the chief mediator, on whether talks would resume Monday in South Africa as planned. The talks involve Congo's government, the nation's two main rebel movements and a number of opposition political groups.

A Masire aide told delegates Saturday that all sides would resume talks in three weeks at an undisclosed location, said Olivier Kamitatu, secretary-general of the rebel Congo Liberation Movement, or MLC.

But Masire later assured rebel leaders that negotiations would proceed in South Africa as originally planned, said Azarias Ruberwa, secretary-general of the rebel Congolese Rally for Democracy, or RCD, the other major rebel group.

"I really don't know whether there will be a meeting on Monday," Kamitatu said after canceling plans to fly to Congo, formerly known as Zaire. "The situation is confused at the moment."

A suggestion by South African peace brokers for a smaller group of delegates to remain behind to try to resolve two key issues was snubbed by the Congolese government, officials said.

The talks deadlocked Friday after Masire rejected a power-sharing deal struck behind the scenes between the government and the Ugandan-backed MLC that would have isolated the RCD, which is backed by Rwanda.

The RCD rejected the deal, which would allow President Joseph Kabila to keep his present position in a transitional government and make MLC chief Jean-Pierre Bemba the prime minister. The larger RCD was offered the presidency of Parliament.

The negotiations are part of a process defined in the 1999 cease-fire agreement signed by the government, rebels and their foreign backers, that is aimed at ending the war in the Central African nation. Rwanda and Uganda back the rebels, and Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia back the government.

In the talks, consensus was reached on the need to integrate government and rebel forces in a new national army, rebuild a united Congo, set up a tribunal to prosecute those responsible for massacres of civilians and form a South African-style truth and reconciliation commission.

But without agreement on a transitional government, none of these objectives is attainable.

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