The heads of six central African nations agreed today to a cease-fire, formally ending an 11-month war in Congo that has destabilized the region. But it is unclear if the fighting will stop, because squabbling rebel leaders refused to sign the treaty.
Rebel leaders arrived here today and were expected to sign the agreement, which called for the integration of the rebel soldiers into the Congolese army and for the warring factions to begin discussions on the future of Congo within 45 days.
But negotiators could not resolve a dispute over which rebel leader should sign the treaty.
The six signers said they would continue to work with the rebels. "We people from Africa are not people from a dark continent," said Zambian President Frederick Chiluba upon the signing of the agreement. "We want peace."
The 11-month conflict has been complicated by the involvement of almost a dozen states and rebel factions, nearly all with different interests.
While the violence has centered on the Congolese rebels' efforts to topple the 2 1/2-year-old government established by Congolese President Laurent Kabila after he ousted autocratic president Mobutu Sese Seko, Kabila's support of the Hutu militia responsible for the genocide that killed a half-million Rwandan Tutsis in 1994 has complicated both the war and the efforts at reconciliation.
Kabila had recruited the Hutu militia, known as the Interahamwe, to join forces with him, and they have also used Congo as a base to attack and destabilize neighboring countries. That, in turn, has drawn Rwanda's Tutsi-led government and Uganda into the conflict backing the Congolese rebels, and pitting those governments against Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe, all of which have supported Kabila.
The result has been a difficult peace process that few believe will curtail the violence in Congo. State leaders and rebel factions have negotiated since last month, twice reaching tentative agreements only to see them unravel.
Today's signing was delayed for more than seven hours while the two factions of Congo rebels bickered over which resistance leader should sign the agreement. An eleventh-hour compromise was finally reached, allowing the leaders of both factions to sign the treaty.
Still, even with today's signing, the question hovering over the cease-fire is whether the myriad factions of soldiers who did not participate in the talks, especially the Interahamwe and renegade rebels from the eastern Congo, will put down their weapons.
South Africa and the United Nations have pledged to send peacekeeping troops to the Congo, but that could take months, and the details of how to disarm the Interahamwe have not been worked out.
Also, the cease-fire contains an amnesty clause that does not extend to those who have committed genocide. That would leave many of the Hutu soldiers vulnerable to prosecution and has fueled concerns that the cease-fire is only an incremental step toward peace in central Africa.
CAPTION: Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe was among six national leaders to sign the pact.