Congolese Leader to Meet President Bush
BUKAVU, Congo (AP) _ Peace is paying off in some parts of eastern Congo. Towns ravaged by five years of civil war are slowly coming back to life, and farmers and fishermen say business is brisk.
But elsewhere, tribal militias fight on, complicating efforts to rebuild the vast central African country. Many in Congo say the transitional government needs help from abroad if it is to succeed in bringing peace to the entire country.
With that in mind, President Joseph Kabila heads to Washington this week. He is scheduled to meet with President Bush on Wednesday.
The United States has already earmarked $77 million for humanitarian aid to Congo this year, and Kabila is expected to push Bush to maintain that support.
At least some of the money will help the millions of people in eastern Congo left homeless and destitute by the war. But many in this eastern Congolese town say the country needs more than money if peace is to last.
``What Kabila should be asking from Bush is for strong political and material support,″ said Mushizi Kizito, who runs Bukavu’s popular Radio Maendeleo.
Kizito said the United States can start by leaning on neighboring African nations not to derail the peace process.
The war erupted in 1998 when Uganda and Rwanda sent troops into eastern Congo to back rebels seeking to oust President Laurent Kabila, the current leader’s father. The two countries accused the Congolese government of supporting insurgents within their borders.
The conflict quickly divided Congo, a country more than three times the size of Texas. It claimed the lives of 3.3 million people over the next five years, largely through war-induced hunger and disease.
The situation remained largely unchanged until this past June, when the rebels joined a transitional government headed by the younger Kabila.
But the Rwandan insurgents _ remnants of the forces behind the 1994 genocide in Rwanda _ still lurk. For now, Rwanda is holding back, giving the new Congolese government time to get organized enough to take on the rebels. But it’s not clear how long such patience will last.
In the northeastern Ituri province, tribal militias continue to battle each other despite the presence of around 4,000 U.N. peacekeepers.
Those clashes erupted in May, when Uganda pulled its troops out of the region. Hundreds of people were killed in weeks of fighting, which ended only after a French-led European Union force arrived in the provincial capital, Bunia, in June.
The U.N. troops replaced the EU force in September and have fanned out into the rest of the province in an effort to bring stability to the troubled region _ a move approved by the United States and other U.N. Security Council members.
But sporadic fighting in Ituri between the militias continues and Kabila is looking for money to help disarm and demobilize the tribal fighters, many of whom are children.
The transitional government also needs financial support to integrate former rebels and government troops into a new army.
Bukavu, a town on the shores of Lake Kivu, is fast becoming an advertisement for the benefits of peace.
Four months ago, the town was controlled by the Congolese Rally for Democracy rebels and residents had to go through other countries to get to government-controlled parts of Congo. Talking to friends or relatives in the capital, Kinshasa, required an international phone call. Farmers and fisherman were cut off from markets in the west and found few buyers in the impoverished town.
But these days, ``when I sell my catch, some of my regular customers no longer plead for discounts,″ said Biringanine Kulimushi, a fisherman on Lake Kivu. ``They now have more money.″
There are other signs of progress _ airline flights now traverse the entire country and national cell phone networks have spread to the east, slashing the prices of calls to Kinshasa.
``The impact of the transitional government is beginning to be felt by the common man where it matters most _ at the wallet,″ Kizito said.
Senior officials from the transitional government have also been traveling through eastern Congo in recent months, encouraging reconciliation between tribes that backed opposing sides in the civil war.
``Social tensions have been reduced dramatically,″ Kizito said.