Rebel Leaders Take Charge As Vice-Presidents

Vanguard (Lagos), 18 July 2003

The four leaders of the main rebel groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo have been sworn in as vice-presidents in a new power-sharing government aimed at ending nearly five years of war.

The transitional administration composed of once bitterest enemies should pave the way for the country's first democratic elections in two years' time, if all goes according to plan. As the vice-presidents took their oath of office in the capital, Kinshasa, their supporters roared their approval.

The five-year war has been described as the worst conflict since World War II involving tens of thousands of foreign troops and resulting in the estimated deaths of at some three million people.

But analysts say that unifying a country four times the size of France, across which there are few linking roads or railways, will be a huge task which could take many generations.

Residents in Kinshasa have mixed feelings about the deal, with one woman telling the BBC: Most of the time we see politicians take decisions today, then tomorrow they change.

Another said he was happy: If the country is united then there's no problem, the government can go on.

The ceremony formally spells the end of the war, but the BBC's Ishbel Matheson says there are many obstacles to be overcome.

One possible problem for the new government is the absence so far of an agreement on how rebel and government forces might be integrated in a new national army.

Another is continuing conflict in eastern Ituri province which is in a state of anarchy with numerous ethnic militias committing terrible human rights abuses such as rape, murder and cannibalism, our correspondent says.

The latest accusation of a brutal attack comes from a local militia leader in Bunia who accused government allied militias of launching a raid on a hospital in the village of Tchomia on Wednesday killing 47 people.

Hema leader Thomas Lubanga of the Union of Congolese Patriots told the BBC's Network Africa on Thursday that a group of about 250 men attacked the village before fleeing.

A UN spokesman in Bunia confirmed that heavy fighting had taken place, but could not confirm the number of dead.

More than 1,000 French-led peacekeepers are deployed to stop the fighting in Bunia, but the international force does not control areas outside the town.

The leader of the largest rebel group arrived in Kinshasa on Wednesday, ending days of speculation about whether he would take up his seat in the transitional government, after disputes over security arrangements and the sharing of control of the DR Congo's military districts.

Speaking to reporters, Azarias Ruberwa, leader of the Rwanda-backed Congolese Rally for Democracy-Goma (RCD-Goma) said: Our arrival marks the effective start of the transition.

We have already announced the end of the war, now it's a reality.

Jean Pierre Bemba, the leader of the second largest rebel group, the Ugandan-backed MLC, also arrived this week.

It is Mr Bemba's first time back in Kinshasa since 1997 when he fled the capital of the then Zaire with other stalwarts of the deposed President Mobutu as rebels led by Laurent Kabila, father of the current president, approached.

Two other vice-presidents were also sworn in on Thursday—one representing the old government, Abdoulaye Yerodia Ndombasi, and another Arthur Z'Ahidi Ngoma, to represent the political opposition.

The government will be headed by Joseph Kabila, who took over after the assassination of his father in January 2001.