Six weeks after every other party in Congo's stubborn war signed a peace accord, two feuding rebel groups agreed today to add their signatures as well.
The two rival factions of the rebel Congolese Rally for Democracy pledged to travel to Lusaka, Zambia, this week to formally join the peace process aimed at ending the year-long war in Africa's third-largest country. If the factions actually sign--which they resisted doing on July 10, when the six nations involved in the war adopted the accord--it would clear they way for an immediate cease-fire.
The rebel group has been fighting since August 1998 to topple Congolese President Laurent Kabila. Supported by troops from Rwanda and Uganda, Kabila's former allies, the rebels quickly seized control of more than half of Congo. But this spring, they split into two factions--one backed by Rwanda, the other by Uganda.
Their deadlock was broken after a multination summit that coincided with an outbreak of fighting last week in the rebel-held Congolese city of Kisangani, which one rebel faction saw as a brazen attempt to assassinate the leader of the other.
"What they wanted was to kill us politically and kill us physically," said Ernest Wamba dia Wamba, the history professor who has refused to acknowledge his ouster in May as head of the Rally for Democracy. "We think they have failed."
Wamba's opponents called the accusation further evidence of his self-obsession. "This man called Wamba is a former president, but he's just a member," said Bizima Karaha, intelligence chief of the Rally for Democracy's largest faction, which is based in the eastern Congo city of Goma. "He's one man, just one. We have proved that."
The proof, he said, was the mechanism that finally broke the logjam over who would sign. Wamba will be allowed to sign the accord, as he has insisted is his right since stubbornly taking the rebels' assigned seat at the Lusaka meeting in July. But his signature will be only one among 50. Under the compromise agreement, every "founding member" of the Congolese Rally for Democracy will sign.
"He's a member like everybody else," Karaha said. "He wanted to sign as leader of a faction that doesn't exist."
Analysts warn that the protracted bickering will threaten implementation of the so-called Lusaka accord, which calls for a peace process every bit as complicated as the war it is meant to end.
In broad strokes, the plan mandates a cease-fire, then deployment of peacekeeping troops either from the United Nations or the Organization of African Unity. Meanwhile, Kabila, Congo's president, is to convene a national forum aimed at addressing the issues of democratization and corruption that sparked the rebellion.
At the same time, the ethnic Hutu extremists who carried out the 1994 genocide in Rwanda--and have used eastern Congo as a base of operations--are to be systematically disarmed. Disarmament is a precondition to the final withdrawal of foreign forces, notably Rwanda and Uganda, but most observers agree it will be nearly impossible to carry out.