Two rebel leaders sworn in as Congo vice presidents


Sat, Jul 19, 2003 - Page 6

As fighting raged in northeast Congo, two main rebel leaders were sworn in as vice presidents in a new power-sharing government created to end the country's nearly five-year civil war.

The rest of the new government was sworn in yesterday, including 36 ministers and 24 vice-ministers -- representing President Joseph Kabila, opposition parties, rebel groups and civil society.

The new government, headed by Kabila, brings together the rebels, Kabila's supporters and the unarmed opposition in an effort to unify a nation the size of Western Europe torn apart by fighting since 1998.

"A new page of the history of the country will be written, and it will be a rosy one I hope," government spokesman Vital Kamere said on Thursday. "There is no more old government and no more rebels. We are all one government."

Reports of new fighting in the northeastern reaches of the country, however, cast a shadow over hopes that peace could hold in the vast, mineral-rich central African country.

Two rebel leaders -- Jean-Pierre Bemba of the Uganda-backed Congolese Liberation Movement and Azarias Ruberwa of the Rwanda-allied Congolese Rally for Democracy -- were sworn in as vice presidents.

The other two vice presidents are Abdoulaye Yerodia Nbombasi, allied to Kabila, and Arthur Z'Ahidi Ngoma, a member of the country's unarmed political opposition.

At the ceremony in Congo's capital, Kinshasa, thousands of people cheered and danced, celebrating prospects that their country might again know peace and stability.

The new government, agreed to in December, plans to meet for the first time today and has until Aug. 4 to draft a plan leading to elections within a year.

The ceremony occurred as news spread of recent fighting in northeastern Congo that may have killed more than 80 people, mostly civilians.

The fighting, which officials said continued Thursday, pitted the rival Lendu and Hema tribal groups against each other and involved other rebel fighters and government troops, officials said.

The fresh fighting demonstrates how difficult it likely will be for Congo to remain united.

Congo's riches provide a powerful disincentive for armed factions in the northeast to give up fighting and yield control to a government. Mistrust between the new government partners also remains strong.

Congo's war, which has killed an estimated 3.3 million people, 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.

War crimes that may have been committed in Congo could be investigated by the world's first permanent war crimes tribunal. The tribunal's chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, said Wednesday that up to 5,000 civilians have been killed in tribal wars in Congo's Ituri province since July 1, 2002, when the court came into existence.