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An Eerie Calm Covers Most of Congo

Paul Harris | 30.07.2003 23:03 | Analysis | World

In what must surely be seen as a positive symbol, the militia groups who have been warring with each other in northeastern Ituri province of the Democratic Republic of Congo have agreed to disarm, to withdraw, and to allow verification procedures to be instituted

These militia have been the source of ethnic violence that has claimed upwards of 50,000 people since 1999 and more than 5,000 in just the past few months. Perhaps an even more important development is that the militias have decided to carry out joint verifications of their ceasefire rather than allowing a third party, whose objectivity might be questioned, to muddy the waters. This agreement, reached Friday, is the most positive indication yet that the violence, which displaced almost half a million people during the spring months this year, may finally be over.

Although there was violence again as recently as Friday resulting in the deaths of seven people, this appears to have been an errant event. Officials of Médicins sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders) continue to say that providing humanitarian aid is difficult but the peace accord presently in place across DRC appears to be holding better than anyone's expectations. Various rebel groups, who are signatories to the peace agreement, have been seen to raise DRC flags in their compounds, something completely unthinkable even just a few weeks ago.

Some of these same rebel groups caused concern last week when they refused to take the oath of their new offices in the government. They claimed the oath was written in such a way that they would have been swearing personal allegiance to president Joseph Kabila rather than to DRC. Now that it has been rewritten, this hurdle has been leapt.

The new government held its first cabinet meeting on July 25. The cabinet is comprised of the president, four vice-presidents (one from the former government, one from the opposition and two from the largest rebel groups), plus thirty-six ministers, sixteen of whom are from the ranks of the rebels. Francois Mwamba, the Budget Minister and a member of one of the rebel groups, said: "We did not kiss each other but after solving the problem of the swearing-in the government is working in a good environment.”

One ominous note, however, is that a shipment of ammunition was seized on Friday. It was found on a private plane parked at the airport in Beni, in nord-Kivu province, and although it was suspected to have originated in Uganda, this is being denied by Kampala. The accusation came from Mbusa Nyamwisi, a former DRC rebel leader, and now minister for regional cooperation in the new DRC government.

Paul Harris
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