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Talks on Congo’s Future Deadlocked

April 19, 2002

SUN CITY, South Africa (AP) _ Weeks of talks aimed at mapping out Congo’s political future deadlocked Friday, with the sides failing to meet a deadline for an agreement on creating a new transitional government.

Delegates at the Congo talks had hoped to adopt a plan for a new government at the closing session Friday. Instead, they fought to keep the peace process alive after South African President Thabo Mbeki’s last-ditch efforts to broker a compromise deal failed.

The deal was accepted by the government and one of two major rebel groups fighting in the Central African nation’s 3 1/2-year civil war _ but it would have left the other main rebel group out of power. That group rejected the deal and said it had not decided whether to continue talks.

``We recognize that no all-inclusive agreement has been reached,″ said Nana Rosine Ngangoue, spokeswoman for Botswana’s former president Ketumile Masire, who has been mediating the tortuous Congo peace process.

She said Masire planned to propose the formation of a commission to carry on discussion of ``everything that has been agreed on up to now by consensus.″

Earlier this week, Mbeki proposed a plan under which President Joseph Kabila would become a largely ceremonial head of state while leaders of both major rebel groups would become powerful vice presidents.

But hopes for agreement on Mbeki’s proposal were dashed when the government and the rebel Movement for Congolese Liberation, or MLC, forged an agreement under which Kabila would remain president _ with significant powers _ and MLC chief Jean-Pierre Bemba would become prime minister.

The rival rebel group _ the larger, Rwandan-backed Congolese Rally for Democracy, or RCD, was offered the presidency of the parliament, a less powerful position. The RCD rejected the plan, saying it violated the 1999 cease-fire signed by the government, the rebels and their foreign backers.

Bizima Karaha, a senior RCD leader, dismissed the talks completely.

``The conclusion is that this dialogue is a total failure, simply because we have been taken hostage by Joseph Kabila and Jean-Pierre Bemba, who think they are going to continue to run the country the way it has always been run,″ Karaha told The Associated Press.

He said his group has not been told about continued talks, and therefore had not yet made a decision on whether to participate.

The war broke out in August 1998 when the Rwandan-backed rebels tried to oust Congo’s government, accusing it of harboring the Rwandan militia responsible for the 1994 genocide of at least half a million minority Tutsis and political moderate Hutus.

The war drew in six countries, with Rwanda and Uganda backing the rebels and Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia supporting the government.

At the talks in South Africa _ mandated by the 1999 truce deal _ delegates from opposition parties and other sectors of society did agree with the government and the rebels on some things. But without agreement on a transitional government those objectives cannot be reached.

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

``There have been some positive achievements, but serious problems remain,″ said Aldo Ajello, the European Union’s regional representative.

``This is not the end of the dialogue,″ Ajello said. He said delegates would work to forge a compromise that would be based on the agreement between the government and the MLC but would be acceptable to the other rebel group.

``We must work on the agreement to make it favorable to the RCD,″ he said.

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