JOHANNESBURG (IPS)–On paper, the chances of an end to the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have never been so good.
The warring parties in the conflict, in which more than two million civilians are estimated to have died, mainly due to starvation and disease, were scheduled to soon sign an “in principle” peace-deal, in South Africa.
The latest deal was brokered by South African President Thabo Mbeki and United Nations special envoy, Moustapha Niasse.
This is the first time that the two main armed rebel groups in the DRC–the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RDC) and the Congo Liberation Movement (MLC) – and the country’s government have agreed on a power-sharing deal.
Other political and civil society groups in the DRC also have given the agreement a cautious thumbs-up.
In terms of the agreement, DRC President Joseph Kabila will become the head of a planned transitional government. The last round of negotiations in South Africa, held earlier this year, stumbled to a halt after the DRC government refused to budge on rebel demands that Mr. Kabila step down.
However, President Kabila will now have four vice-presidents, who will represent the present DRC government, the RCD, the MLC, and one who will act for other political parties and civil society in the country. This interim government will prepare the way for democratic elections.
After the deal is signed in the first week in November, there will be a two-week break in the talks. They are scheduled to resume on Nov. 15, when the parties will work out exactly how power in the Congo will be shared and who will get what cabinet posts.
However, some South African observers, who have been following the talks closely are still concerned that the peace deal may run into resistance on the ground in the Congo. They point out that local and regional warlords, who have used the conflict to get rich, have no vested interest in building peace.
However, the withdrawal of foreign troops, who were drawn into the DRC conflict, is seen as a real move towards peace. The DRC rebel groups were backed by Rwanda and Uganda, while the DRC government received military support from Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola.
At the height of the war, there were well over 50,000 troops from seven different African states fighting in the Congo.
The last Zimbabwean, Angolan and Namibian troops left the Congo in early November. Rwanda had already withdrawn its forces. Uganda is keeping some troops in the Congo at the request of the UN to help maintain security in the vast Central African country.
Mr. Mbeki will meet with Kabila and Rwandan President Paul Kigame, in South Africa to assess progress towards peace in the Congo and the Great Lakes region.
The Great Lakes Region comprises the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and Zambia.
In the meantime, the Transitional Government of Burundi and the armed rebel group, the National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), entered into cease-fire negotiations in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
The two parties met in committees in which experts from the two sides negotiated technical details of the draft cease fire agreement, according to South African Deputy President, Jacob Zuma, who is facilitating the Burundi peace talks.
Mr. Zuma also met with another Burundian rebel group, the Palipehutu Forces for National Liberation (Palipehutu-FNL), in an effort to get them to join the talks. However, they indicated that they did not have a mandate to negotiate with the Burundi transitional government until their demands had been met. These include that the Burundi government officially recognize the group, enforce the return of all government soldiers to their barracks and suspend all criminal courts, among others. Mr. Zuma does not plan to hold further meetings with the Palipehutu-FNL.
South Africa as chair of the African Union has been pushing hard to end the conflict in the Congo and the Great Lakes region. International support for the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD)–the social and economic development program of the African Union–is broadly dependent on improving political and security stability on the continent.