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Congo Settling into Peaceful Routine, Hope Beginning to Rise

After a civil war lasting nearly five years, involving seven foreign armies and producing up to 4.7 million deaths, it appears a lasting peace might be on the horizon
TORONTO (NFTF.org) -- So far all is well in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) (Background Report). After a civil war lasting nearly five years, involving seven foreign armies and producing up to 4.7 million deaths, it appears a lasting peace might be on the horizon. There have been several peace treaties since war broke out in 1998 and several limited truces, but this time may be different.

The government of President Joseph Kabila, with assistance from several foreign governments, finally obtained agreement from all the warring parties to cease hostilities and form a caretaker government to guide the country through to 2005 and its first democratic elections in over 40 years. This represented a tremendous victory for all sides. There were several sticking points, with the most serious being the make-up of a new army, but that has been settled in a power-sharing arrangement where all sides got something. The final piece of the picture was put in place July 3 when all of the rebel leaders, who will form part of the transitional government, arrived in Kinshasa to take up their posts.

The new government has begun the task of plotting a path from the bloody past to the future. DRC is one of the most resource-rich plots of land on earth yet its economy is a shambles. The first task for the government will likely be to establish an economic plan that can tap into those resources without giving them all away to foreign nations.

No one seriously doubts that there will continue to be occasional outbreaks of violence; this nation has numerous ethnic factions and foreign governments have put significant effort into exploiting ethnic rivalries as a way of pillaging DRC's extremely rich natural resources. But France, under the mandate of the United Nations, has placed troops in the most volatile region and appears to have stemmed the violence. Troops are arriving from Uruguay, Germany, Bangladesh, and several others to help maintain the peace in some of the other fragile regions.

Critics are almost unanimous that the size and duration of the U.N. involvement is inadequate and, more than anything, will simply provide the warring militias a breathing space to re-arm themselves and plan new offensives. Still, many of the hundreds of thousands who fled the northeastern provinces during the heaviest fighting in May have started to return to their homes. Critics are also gratified that with the U.N. finally taking steps in this area, it will be difficult to turn away if trouble flares again. But they worry that recent troubles in Liberia may make people forget DRC because this nation is probably the most difficult problem in Africa and it would be quite easy to turn attention to problems more amenable to solutions.

The war that gripped Congo for so long has been compared to "9/11 everyday for almost five years." The exact death toll will likely never be counted but it is known that at least 3.3 million died, many from starvation, with unofficial estimates as high as 4.7 million. DRC has known very little peace since it first became the personal property of King Leopold II of Belgium and he enslaved the population, chopping off the hands of those who refused to work. The rebels of today are, to some extent, carrying on a tradition taught to them by their colonial masters.

YellowTimes.org correspondent Paul Harris drafted this report.

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