Congo peace talks break down over genocide disputeNovember 21, 1998
Web posted at: 12:13 p.m. EST (1713 GMT)
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GABORONE, Botswana (Reuters) -- Talks between Congolese rebels and southern African ministers to try to end the war in the Congo broke up abruptly Saturday after rebels demanded that the Kinshasa government be named as a perpetrator of genocide.
Conference officials said that the rebels also had demanded direct talks with the government of embattled President Laurent Kabila and for Sudan and Chad to be listed among the belligerents in the three-month-old war.
"The ministers and the rebel delegation could not find a common position on these issues and the meeting had to be ended," a conference official said.
The talks broke up barely 15 minutes after they resumed Saturday, following a full day of negotiations Friday.
Southern African Development Community (SADC) executive secretary Kaire Mbuende, clearly irritated, told reporters that he was disappointed with the rebel position.
"I thought we were dealing with politicians and statesmen but these people are behaving like bandits," Mbuende said.
According to a working document obtained by Reuters, the rebels also wanted a guarantee from SADC ministers that the rebel group would be recognized as a full participating member in all future meetings of the Congo crisis.
They wanted the ministers to acknowledge that Kabila had committed acts of genocide and crimes against humanity.
Their argument centers around the treatment of Banyamulenge ethnic Tutsis who have been systematically arrested or killed because of their link to the Rwandese Tutsis who support the rebels, the document says.
Zambian Presidential Affairs Minister Eric Silwamba said he would submit a report to SADC heads of state on the issues raised by the rebels.
The Gaborone talks, attended by representatives of the United Nations and the Organization of African Unity (OAU), were aimed at securing a cease-fire agreement from the rebels.
On Friday, sources had said Congolese rebels had agreed to adopt a draft proposal that could lead to a cease-fire in their war against Kabila's government.
But the meeting adjourned Friday night amid wrangling over the rebel demands. On Saturday, the rebels said they agreed in principle to a cease-fire but want it negotiated in direct talks with Kabila.
"We are not opposed to a cease-fire. We agree to it in principle but we need to negotiate this with Kabila," said rebel leader Wamba dia Wamba.
Kabila was not at the Gaborone talks, but his embattled government has been invited to a separate round due to take place on December 6 in the Zambian capital, Lusaka.
Military analysts warn that the Congo conflict, if not resolved at the negotiating table, could erupt into a wider war in the heart of Africa.
Rwanda and Uganda have thousands of troops backing the rebels in the Congo because of what they say are genuine security concerns. Kabila has won support from Angola, Namibia, Chad and Zimbabwe. Other sources say Libya and Sudan are also helping the Congolese president.
The Gaborone talks marked the first time the rebels had been allowed to attend a regional ministerial meeting. Previously they were only consulted on the sidelines.
Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.
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