Squabbling breaks out as ink dries on Congo peace accord

THE BELATED signing by rebels of a ceasefire accord to end the year-old fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo raises more questions than it answers, and peace remains a distant prospect, diplomats agreed yesterday.

In a compromise arrangement in Zambia on Tuesday, the 50 founder-members of the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD) - divided and unable to agree on a leader to represent them all - individually put their names to a peace accord which the other parties in the fighting signed on 10 July.

But within hours the rebels were squabbling again, this time about the next stage of the peace process - the make-up of a joint military council - and whether President Laurent-Desire Kabila should resign before there can be any further dialogue.

The Democratic Republic of Congo - which is the size of France, Britain, Italy and Spain combined - has been at war since this time last year.

President Kabila, who seized power by the gun in 1997 from the despotic Mobutu Sese Seko, is being challenged by rebels supported by foreign powers.

President Kabila, who has mineral wealth on his side, is backed by Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia.

The rebels - the RCD and the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo (MLC) - are supported by Uganda and Rwanda.

At odds are not only the calls of democrats disappointed by President Kabila's rule so far, but also the interests of those focused on the former Zaire's mineral wealth and, most of all, the legacy of the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Yesterday diplomats and observers who had gathered for the signing in the Zambian capital, Lusaka, were not hiding their scepticism. "We are beginning the most difficult phase," said a United Nations special envoy.

Hannelie de Beer, of the South African Institute for Security Studies, said: "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." Perhaps to detract from the overwhelming atmosphere of gloom, the Zambian president, Frederick Chiluba, who, with the South African government played a key role in seeing through the 10 July agreement, placed the onus for peace on international support.

He said: "The United Nations must deploy a peacekeeping mission with a mandate commensurate with the task at hand. It would be most unfortunate if the gains made so far towards peace are reversed because of failure by the international community to provide adequate assistance to the Congo."

But military experts say the peace deal will be hard to implement because of the huge numbers needed to enforce it, and the requirement that Interahamwe on Congo's soil - Hutus held responsible for the 1994 genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda - be disarmed.

Yesterday General Rashid Lallali, the Algerian UN official who is to head the joint military council, said that between 90,000 and 500,000 peace-keepers would be needed. The most optimistic projection of the number of international peacekeepers the UN Security Council might sanction is 20,000.