Rocky road ahead for Democratic Republic ofCongo
peace process

The final signing of a ceasefire by a splintered rebel movement, which was the last warring party in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to do so, is just the start of a long, rocky road to peace. "We are beginning the most difficult phase," the UN special envoy to the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD) finally signed the ceasefire text. Leaders of rival RCD factions thus joined six belligerent nations and another rebel force in the bid to bring peace to a derelict country two-thirds the size of the European Union, riddled with armed groups and haunted by genocidal killers. In this picture by AP's Themba Hadebe Congolese rebel leader Ernest Wamba dia Wamba signs the ceasefire agreement in Lusaka, Zambia

Lusaka - "The secretary-general has said the process will be tough, long and costly, but that whatever it takes, he would like to assist," according to the UN special representative. Speaking in the Zambian capital of Lusaka, Dinka pointed out, however, that any decision to commit UN peacekeepers to the volatile, mineral-rich, country would be up to the Security Council.

He dashed any hopes among African leaders that the United Nations would launch a "Chapter Seven" operation, which allows for peace "enforcement" but sends a collective shudder down the UN spine because of the Somalia debacle in 1993. "We have been quietly informing heads of state that Chapter Seven is a very difficult mandate and the least likely to be accepted," Dinka said.

UN diplomats have said a peacekeeping force of between 15 000 and 20 000 troops will be considered. Dinka confirmed that UN involvement will begin as of this week, with the despatch of the first of 90 military liaison officers to prepare the ground for a larger observer group.

The officers will be stationed in the DRC and in the capitals of other belligerent states.

Uganda and Rwanda, to the east of the former Zaire, backed the rebels in the year-long war, while DRC President Laurent Kabila was supported by troops from Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia.

They all signed the ceasefire agreement on July 10. The UN's military liason officers will be followed "within the next few days by a technical survey team which will study what is needed and report back to the secretary-general", Dinka said. "I expect many snags ahead. We are going from the shooting stage to the political stage, and everybody has their own political interests," he said.

His concerns were echoed by an analyst with South Africa's Institute for Security Studies, Hannelie de Beer. "This is the most dangerous period, before there are peace monitors on the ground. I've got my doubts about whether the ceasefire will hold. There are many armed groups and it is easy for them to do what they like at the moment."

She predicted that the situation would remain unstable at least until the political dialogue called for in the ceasefire agreement is completed.

This requires Kabila to negotiate the DRC's future political direction with both armed and unarmed opposition groups. "It is due to begin within 45 days and be completed within another 45 days - and I don't think that is long enough," De Beer said.

Apart from political problems in a country with no tradition of democracy, one of the major hurdles is a demand in the ceasefire agreement that the Interahamwe Hutu militia responsible for the 1994 Rwandan genocide be hunted down and disarmed.

"It is simply not going to be possible," said De Beer. "Who is going to do it?" Thousands of Interahamwe militiamen, with the blood of hundreds of thousands of Rwandan Tutsis on their hands, are at large in the DRC.

Their presence and the need for border security is the main reason cited by Rwanda for its intervention in the DRC conflict. "If the Interahamwe is not dealt with, it will give Rwanda reason to stay in the DRC," said De Beer. And if that happens, the whole process could begin to unravel.
- Sapa-AFP