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Rebels Sworn in As Congo Vice Presidents

July 17, 2003

KINSHASA, Congo (AP) _ Congo’s main rebel leaders were sworn in Thursday as vice presidents in a new power-sharing government, designed to end the country’s nearly five-year civil war.

The new government, headed by President Joseph Kabila, brings together the rebels, Kabila’s supporters and the unarmed opposition in an effort to reunify a nation the size of Western Europe torn apart by fighting since 1998.

The new government, agreed to in December, meets for the first time on Saturday, and has until Aug. 4 to draft a plan for leading the mineral-rich country to elections within about a year.

At a ceremony attended by thousands in Congo’s capital, Kinshasa, the two rebel leaders _ Jean-Pierre Bemba and Azarias Ruberwa _ were among four new vice presidents sworn in.

The other two vice presidents were Abdoulaye Yerodia Nbombasi, allied to Kabila, and Arthur Z’Ahidi Ngoma, a member of the country’s unarmed political opposition.

On Wednesday, the rebel leaders sounded optimistic about peace after meeting separately with Kabila.

``There is no more doubt, it’s irreversible,″ said Ruberwa, of the Rwanda-allied Congolese Rally for Democracy. ``We are here as partners and not as belligerents.″

Bemba echoed that sentiment.

``We have turned the page from the war,″ said Bemba, who heads the Uganda-backed Congolese Liberation movement. ``The five years we passed in the rebellion gave us ... the pathways to get this country out of the crisis.″

But Congo still faces numerous hurdles as it tries to unite the war-divided country. The Kinshasa-based government is weak and incapable of establishing rule of law across Congo.

Ethnic fighting is rife in lawless northeast Congo, and the country’s riches provide a powerful disincentive for armed factions there to give up fighting and yield control to a government.

The latest fighting in the northeast has pitted rival Hema and Lendu militias and broke out in May, following the withdrawal of Ugandan troops from the region.

In two days of fighting this week, more than 80 people, mostly civilians, were killed in fighting among rival tribal militias, rebels and government soldiers in northeastern Congo, a spokesman for one of the militias said Thursday.

Another obstacle toward peace is mistrust among the new government partners.

But in Africa’s third-largest nation, people remain hopeful that the transition government will hold and mark a major step toward the end of the conflict, which has killed an estimated 3.3 million people.

Congo’s war broke out in 1998 when neighboring Rwanda and Uganda backed Congolese rebels trying to overthrow then-President Laurent Kabila, accusing him of harboring armed militias that threatened their own security. Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia stepped in on the government’s side.

Kabila was assassinated in January 2001 by one of his own bodyguards. He was succeeded by his son, Joseph, who pushed ahead with peace efforts, eventually leading to the withdrawal of foreign armies from the country.

War crimes that may have been committed in Congo’s war could be investigated by the world’s first permanent war crimes tribunal.

On Wednesday in The Hague, Netherlands, the chief prosecutor of the tribunal, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, said that he may investigate alleged war crimes from Congo’s war.

Moreno-Ocampo said up to 5,000 civilians have been killed in tribal wars in Congo’s Ituri province since July 1, 2002, when the court came into existence and its jurisdiction began.

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