Jean-Pierre Bemba, leader of the Mouvement de Liberation Congolais (MLC), on Sunday became the first of the Congolese rebel leaders to sign the Lusaka peace accord. Bemba told reporters he had signed the accord to give peace a chance in his country, but threatened to withdraw his support for the deal if the rebel Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie (RCD) did not sign up within a week, Radio Rwanda reported on Monday. After signing, Bemba flew from Lusaka to Pretoria for a meeting with South African President Thabo Mbeki, who said he was hopeful the RCD would sign this week, news agencies reported. Bemba's signing came two days after his MLC rebels reportedly seized the town of Zongo on the Oubangui River.
RCD-Goma cautiously welcomes Bemba signature
The main Goma faction of the rebel RCD on Monday welcomed Bemba's signing of the accord. Its leader, Emile Ilunga, claimed Bemba was "not to be trusted", but added: "We are gratified to learn that he has signed the accord as we had hoped he would. We have always wanted to sign the accord together with him", Radio France Internationale reported.
The mainstream RCD said it was ready to sign also but was concerned that ousted leader Ernest Wamba dia Wamba should not be allowed to do so. "We call upon the people to remain calm," RCD-Goma Coordinator Jean-Marie Matuka told rebel-controlled radio in Uvira. "The RCD, which favours peace, security, freedom and reconstruction will sign the agreements ...
The mediator must understand that the RCD has its president who was officially and legally installed by the collegiate of founders ... As soon as Wamba renounces his bid to sign the ceasefire agreement, our president, Emile Ilunga, will sign immediately."
Talks continue on RCD signing peace deal
Ilunga, who was due to travel to Uganda on Monday evening for a meeting with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, earlier that day accused Uganda of not respecting the rebels' decision-making process. "Wamba has no troops, and there is no point in his signing the ceasefire agreement ... We're astonished by Ugandan support of an individual, rather than working in the interest of the Congolese people," AP news agency quoted Ilunga as saying.
Zambian President Frederick Chiluba was also expected to visit Rwanda on Tuesday in an attempt to talk the RCD into signing the truce, Radio France Internationale reported.
EU warns rebels about dangers of "playing with fire"
The EU's special envoy to the Great Lakes region, Aldo Ajello, said at the weekend on Gabonese radio that the international community could not understand the RCD's behaviour, "not only in refusing to sign the agreement but also in continuing the war with other people who are not involved in their internal affairs". Ajello said it was "totally unacceptable" to hold the Lusaka process ransom to "problems that are purely their internal affair". He warned that such behaviour would "change completely the attitude ... towards the rebels" and warned that they "should be very careful because they are playing with fire".
Peace march flops
A peace march by civil society groups in Kinshasa on Monday to mark the anniversary of the current rebellion turned into a demonstration by three different groups, the march's organisers said on Tuesday. In a report sent to IRIN, the Campagne nationale pour la paix durable en RDC (CNPD) said it was "literally checkmated" by the government. There was a march by the army, a march by "movements making propaganda for Kabila" and finally that of civil society. The CNPD was informed by the governor of Kinshasa that its message was "not favourable" towards Kabila and that its representatives would not be allowed to deliver a speech. "The government has again missed a chance to demonstrate a sense of openness," the group said.
Bukavu businessmen strike
Businessmen in Bukavu went on strike Friday to protest against a five-fold increase in taxation. Local sources said the rebel authorities of the Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie (RCD) had established a new border post in the Virunga national park, as income from the frontier at Beni and Butembo was now going to Kisangani, and not Goma. According to the sources, Beni and Butembo - reportedly under the control of Ernest Wamba dia Wamba's RCD-Kisangani faction - are now "out of bounds" to officials from Goma. In Bukavu, RCD military commander Jean Pierre Ondekane was heckled and stones were thrown when he tried to address a large rally in the town recently. Observers say tension between the RCD and local people is on the increase.
Tension in Maniema
In the often-forgotten eastern DRC province of Maniema, Rwandan troops are reported to be controlling the airports of Kindu, Kasongo, Kalima and Punia. Local sources said there was tension between the English-speaking Rwandans and French-speaking Congolese soldiers. In addition, many of Kabila's soldiers had fled the rebel advance into the surrounding forests and were now re-emerging to mix with the local residents. Others are reported to have joined Mayi-Mayi fighters in the region where "intense insecurity" is reigning in rural areas.
Katanga seeks assistance for 10,000 displaced
Approximately 10,000 people have fled fighting in Manono and Mbudi to settle in Doubie, leading the governor of Katanga province to request urgent food assistance from WFP, an emergency report from the agency, received by IRIN on Tuesday, stated. Local authorities and humanitarian organisations expect the number of displaced persons to increase still further and WFP is preparing an assessment mission to the area with NGO partners, the report added. WFP also said it has not yet received any funding for its US $25 million appeal launched in mid-June for an emergency operation to assist 350,000 war affected people and vulnerable groups in DRC for six months.