Government, rebels agree on troop withdrawals

The Rwandan-backed rebel group Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie (RCD) and the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo have agreed to withdraw troops from disputed towns in the east of the country, the United Nations reported on Friday.

The RCD agreed to withdraw from Moliro, which it seized at the weekend, within five days, and Pweto, also in the southeastern province of Katanga, within 10 days, according to a UN spokesperson. The Congolese armed forces agreed to withdraw from Yayama and Kakaya (also in Katanga) within 10 days, the UN added.

The UN observer mission in the DRC (known by its French acronym MONUC) is due to monitor the withdrawal, and report back to the chairman of the political committee - representing six signatories of the Lusaka peace accord - within 15 days of the agreement being implemented, the UN added. The agreement was reached by the political committee during a two-day meeting being held in Lusaka, Zambia.

This followed a resolution adopted by the UN Security Council on 19 March which demanded the withdrawal of RCD troops from Moliro and Pweto, and recalled that the northeastern city Kisangani must also be demilitarised, in line with previous resolutions.

The DRC government had suspended its participation at the ICD on Thursday 14 March, in protest at an RCD offensive against on Moliro, which it captured two days later. The government alleged that Rwandan troops were also involved, a charge Rwanda has vehemently denied.

Meanwhile, a proposal to form an ad hoc committee to deal with key issues at the inter-Congolese dialogue failed to meet with general approval, the organisers of the dialogue announced on Thursday.

"A number of delegates were not in favour of the idea," said Professor Hacen Lebatt, deputy facilitator of the dialogue in a public statement.

The proposal, put forward by the government delegation, was for an ad hoc committee to be set up to deal with the contentious issues of the "new political order" and the "new national army," Laurent Otete, a representative of opposition parties in exile, told IRIN.

The two issues which have held up progress in the dialogue's political and defence committees essentially concern the status of President Joseph Kabila and his government, and the extent of power sharing that the various parties are prepared to contemplate, according to sources at the Sun City talks.

"We're still blocked on those two issues," Secretary-General of the rebel Mouvement pour la liberation du Congo (MLC) Olivier Kamitatu told IRIN.

National security minister Mwenze Kongolo said earlier at a press conference that he believed the issues could be worked out if the dialogue participants had more time to talk - an indication that the government was hoping an ad hoc committee would continue after the dialogue's official closing date, on 12 April.

The facilitation team announced that the proposal had not been approved after a two-hour meeting of delegates. There was a general view that talks in the different committees were not yet at an impasse and that the proposal could be reconsidered if and when they reached that stage, it added.