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Signs of Progress Reported in Congo Peace Negotiations

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VOA News - February 23, 2009

Nairobi

Negotiators between the Congolese government and a rebel group in the country's east have reached a preliminary agreement, after talks in the eastern town of Goma. Neither side has released details of the discussion, which would only set the stage for future peace negotiations.

Negotiations between the National Congress for the Defense of the People, an ethnic Tutsi rebel group operating in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Congolese government resumed last Wednesday. Following Sunday's discussions, spokesmen for both sides indicated they had reached a preliminary agreement.

The talks are the first between the two sides since the rebels' leader, Laurent Nkunda, was arrested by Rwanda, his former backer, last month.

Details of the talks have not been made public, but a government spokesman indicated they were the product of the work of two committees, one on political and security issues, and one on social and humanitarian issues. He said a report would be sent to President Joseph Kabila and to the mediators.

Future discussions on a peace accord would likely be facilitated by former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, who facilitated the last round of negotiations in Nairobi.

A researcher at the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa, Henri Boshoff, says the two sides likely discussed options for disarming and integrating the CNDP rebels into the government security forces. He says the discussions are also thought to be addressing governing and security arrangements for eastern Congo.

"Surely they will ask especially on the involvement and participation on governance in the provincial level and the local level. They are not looking at the national level, they are just looking at the provincial and local level," says Boshoff.

Meanwhile, two separate military operations against two of the other armed groups operating in eastern DRC are set to wind down in the coming week.

Since December, the Ugandan military, along with the DRC and Southern Sudan, has been leading an operation against the Lords Resistance Army in northeastern Congo.

The campaign, which has had support from the United States military, has come under fire from humanitarian organizations for its failure to prevent retaliations by the rebels against civilians, some 900 of whom have been brutally killed since the operation began.

At the same time the leader of a civil society organization in Dungu, which has seen some of the worst attacks, told the U.N. radio station in the Congo that Ugandan troops should be allowed to stay, saying civilians would be left vulnerable to the LRA soldiers still at large. The Ugandan military has said it will respect the Congolese government's request for the operation to end in February, though there have also been reports that Uganda is eager to continue pursuing the rebels.

To the South, in North Kivu province, Rwandan troops have been pursuing members of the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda, a Rwandan-Hutu militia, many of whose members participated in that country's 1994 genocide. Rwandan troops are set to begin withdrawing Wednesday, though Congolese troops may continue to pursue the militia.

The militia has also been accused of retaliatory attacks on civilians. At least 100 people have been killed, according to human-rights groups, and the United Nations says rapes, looting and kidnapping continue regularly.


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