Kabila `to sign deal ending war in Congo'

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The Independent Online
LAURENT KABILA, President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, was expected today to sign a peace deal in Lusaka ending the war in his vast central African state.

Mr Kabila travelled to Harare on Thursday to discuss the plan with his closest ally, Zimbabwe's President, Robert Mugabe. Defence and foreign ministers from several regional states involved in the conflict signed a draft ceasefire agreement in Lusaka on Wednesday.

Details of the plan were due to be released last night in the Congolese capital, Kinshasa. "Given the gravity of the situation, I submit [the document] to your examination so that you may give your judgment democratically," Mr Kabila said in a statement to the public.

The plan is thought to contain proposals for an immediate end to the fighting followed by deployment of an international peace-keeping force. The ceasefire is due to come into effect within 24 hours of the agreement being signed.

The United States and the European Union welcomed signs of progress towards peace, although Brussels made it clear it that its broad support did not necessarily entail a commitment to funding or supplying manpower for a peace force. The US cautiously said it was contemplating whether to play a role in a future peacekeeping force.

There are doubts that a peace force, even if assembled, could be effectively deployed in a country the size of Western Europe, where communications built under Congo's former Belgian colonial masters have long since collapsed.

The war in Congo, formerly known as Zaire, began in August 1998, when Tutsi-led forces backed by Rwanda and Uganda rose up against Mr Kabila's government.

One of their complaints was that the Kabila regime had done nothing to rein in the Hutu exiles blamed for massacring hundreds of thousands of Tutsis in Rwanda.

The prospect of Mr Kabila's imminent overthrow then sucked in Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola, all of which have sent troops and military equipment to support the Congo president.