African 'World War' peace signing
PRETORIA, South Africa -- Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo have signed an historic treaty to end the devastating four-year war in the heart of Africa.
The conflict in the Congo -- dubbed Africa's World War -- sucked in the armies of six nations, split the vast country into rebel- and government-held regions, and killed an estimated two-and-a-half-million people, mainly through disease and hunger.
Under an agreement reached by both sides last week, Congo has pledged to disarm and arrest Rwandan Hutu militia in return for Rwandan troops withdrawing.
Rwanda invaded in 1998 to try to topple the government and protect its western borders against the Rwandan Hutu rebels based in Congo.
President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Congo President Joseph Kabila -- who took over the post when his father, Laurent Kabila, was assassinated in 2001 -- signed the peace pact in the South African capital Pretoria on Tuesday.
"No more blood must run," said Kabila. "There is a time for war. There is also a time for peace."
Kagame called the agreement a "big step" in resolving the conflict "so that the Congolese people can be able to live in peace and struggle to build their country."
He also called on other nations to work with the two countries to help ensure the peace deal succeeds.
"If they come on board and support these efforts, we shall be able to move forward," he said.
"Since some of them historically have been part of the problem, they cannot escape responsibility of being part of the solution."
South African President Thabo Mbeki and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan brokered the deal and will oversee its implementation.
Among those witnessing the signing were Mbeki, who heads the African Union, Malawi's President Bakili Muluzi, chairman of the 14-member Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), and Britain's International Development Minister Clare Short.
CNN's Charlayne Hunter-Gault said: "Everyone is calling this an historic moment in that the conflict which took so many lives is about to be ended -- or at least that is the optimistic hope.
"The optimism stems from the fact that Rwanda has signed onto this deal. It was Rwanda that went into the Democractic Republic of Congo."
War broke out in Congo in August 1998 when Rwanda and Uganda backed Congolese rebels seeking to oust Laurent Kabila, accusing him of supporting groups, including the Hutu militia, which threatened their security.
Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola, backed the Kinshasa government.
Under the agreement, Congo is to begin rounding up the Hutu militia fighters 30 days after the deal is signed.
Rwanda's withdrawal will begin 15 days later and is to be completed in 45 days.
The Rwandan-backed Congolese rebels will begin negotiations with the Congolese government on August 5, according to rebel officials.
The talks will be aimed at forming a transitional government to prepare Congo for its first free and fair elections since independence from Belgium in 1960.
But the core of the agreement is a commitment by Congo to round up, disarm and repatriate an estimated 12,000 Rwandan Hutu militia fighters.
In return, Rwanda says it will be able to withdraw its estimated 30,000 troops from eastern Congo in the 45 days stipulated.
"Withdrawal in 45 days may present some logistical challenges, but it is feasible," army operations chief Brigadier-General Karenzi Karake told The Associated Press.
"Withdrawal is only difficult if you are pulling out while protecting yourself from hostile acts; but in this case, there should be nothing of the sort."
Kagame said: "I firmly believe that these two issues ... constitute the ultimate solution to the conflict. We are more than willing to resolve this issue once and for all."
The treaty also requires Congo and Rwanda to provide the U.N. observer mission in Congo and South African officials with all information they have on the location and numbers of the Rwandan Hutu militia.
Karake said Rwanda has already given its information on the militia to the U.N. observers.
Analysts are wary about the accord's prospects for success after the collapse of previous cease-fires, and say the latest deal is fraught with difficulties.
"Any step forward is welcome. But the prospects of implementing this accord are completely unrealistic," said Alison Des Forges, an expert on Rwanda with Human Rights Watch.
Critics say the three or four-month timetable reportedly stipulated by the pact looks impossible, because there are very few U.N. troops deployed in the region at the moment with the specific job of disarming Hutu militants.
Some U.N. officials have said the U.N. force in the country, known by its French acronym MONUC, will need six months just to deploy any such force.
In addition, under earlier peace plans, MONUC originally envisaged the combatants disarming themselves willingly.
Des Forges said the accord appeared to assume that all Rwandan Hutu armed groups operating in the DRC were guilty of participating in the genocide, but this was not the case.
"The terms used to describe the combatants (Hutu elements to be rounded up and repatriated to Rwanda) are inappropriate. They are all described as persons who were involved in the genocide. But we know that this is not the case."
The International Crisis Group (ICG) issued a report on Tuesday saying most Hutu rebels now in the Congo are not part of the armed forces and militias that presided over the Rwandan genocide in 1994. (Story)
Francois Grignon, from ICG, said up to 80 percent of Rwandan Hutus in Congo are post-genocide recruits.
Congo, Rwanda agree to new deal
July 23, 2002
'Deal' to end DR Congo war
July 22, 2002
Funds could scupper Congo talks
October 12, 2001
Democratic Republic of Congo
Government of Rwanda
UN Mission in Democratic Republic of Congo
International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda
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