Sun, Jul 27, 2003 - Page 6 News List

First meeting for Congo's transitional government

AP , KINSHASA, CONGO

Congo's transitional power-sharing government met for the first time Friday, heightening hopes for the end of nearly five years of war in the vast central African country.

President Joseph Kabila presided over the meeting, which was also attended by the four vice presidents that were named in negotiations in December -- the leaders of the two main rebel groups, an ally of Kabila's, and a member of the country's unarmed political opposition.

The new government is also comprised of 36 ministers and 25 vice ministers. All were present at Friday's meeting except one minister and two vice-ministers who have yet to be named by the government.

The government's first session was originally scheduled for July 19, but was postponed because the ministers and vice ministers from Congo's main rebel groups had boycotted an earlier ceremony, refusing to swear allegiance to Kabila.

The boycotters finally took the oath on Thursday, agreeing to a slightly re-worded pledge in which they pledged loyalty not only to Kabila, but to the government and country's laws as well.

High on the agenda for the government's first meeting was the continued violence in northeastern Congo.

Medecins sans Frontieres, the French-based relief group, said Friday that nighttime killings, rapes and abductions have terrorized the population of Bunia, the region's main city, despite the deployment of a French-led emergency force there in early June.

The emergency military force was dispatched to Bunia to stem fighting between rival tribal factions that have killed hundreds of people.

The volatility in northeastern Congo poses one of the new government's most difficult hurdles as it aims to lead the country to elections within the next year.

Many also wonder how well old enemies will be able to work together in the cumbersomely structured government.

Congo's war, which has killed an estimated 3.3 million people through violence, starvation and disease, erupted in 1998 when neighboring Rwanda and Uganda backed Congolese rebels trying to overthrow then-President Laurent Kabila, accusing him of harboring armed militias that threatened their own security.

Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia stepped in on the government's side.

Kabila was assassinated in January 2001 by one of his own bodyguards and was succeeded by his son, Joseph, who pushed ahead with peace efforts, eventually leading to the withdrawal of foreign armies from the country.

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