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Implement the Lusaka peace pact, Congo told

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LUSAKA, Zambia — African leaders threw down the gauntlet to Congo's warring factions Monday and demanded that the crumbling Lusaka peace agreement be implemented immediately.

In opening statements at a Lusaka summit attended by Congo President Laurent Kabila and called in the name of the 14-member Southern Africa Development Community, the leaders said that they saw no excuse for the near collapse of the peace pact.

They said they were frustrated by the failure of the Democratic Republic of Congo's president and his adversaries to implement a peace deal signed a year ago and told them the time to move forward to save their country had now arrived.

"The DRC peace process is ours. . . . We initiated it, negotiated it and signed the agreement. We must now implement it fully. No one, and I repeat no one, has greater interest in it than ourselves and Africa at large," said Zambian President Frederick Chiluba, the chief Congo negotiator.

"In order for us to succeed in this endeavor, we need to demonstrate the spirit of give and take which always characterized this process and our unity of purpose, determination and the necessary political will to implement the agreement," Chiluba said.

Earlier Monday, leaders called for increased political will from those involved in the crisis or risk a return to full-scale war in the country the size of Europe.

"I wish to appeal to the parties to be forward-looking and emerge from this summit with a clear signal to the people of the Congo and to the international community that we are poised to implement the Lusaka agreement in all its facets," added Salim Ahmed Salim, secretary-general of the Organization of African Unity.

Inside the summit hall, Kabila came face-to-face with adversaries Rwandan President Maj. Gen. Paul Kagame and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who back rebels fighting to topple him. He sat stony-faced and silent, and did not once look in their direction.

Rebel leaders Jean-Pierre Bemba and Emille Illunga stared at Kabila. Another Ugandan-backed rebel, Ernest Wamba dia Wamba, was not present.

The African leaders and Congo rebel groups went into closed-door talks after the formal opening.

Earlier, Kabila told reporters on arrival in Lusaka: "I am very confident and that's why I have come here."

Asked to respond to criticism that he was holding up implementation of the peace deal signed in Lusaka in July 1999, Kabila retorted: "Rubbish."

Chiluba, Kagame, Museveni, Kabila, the presidents of Malawi, South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Tanzania and King Mswati III of Swaziland are in Lusaka for the summit.

The president of Angola, who was earlier expected in Zambia, sent his defense minister instead.

"The problem is that people say they are committed (to ending the crisis), but in actual fact they are not. People say one thing and do the direct opposite," Museveni told Reuters. "We are here to make a difference."

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe said African leaders have what it takes to bring peace to the war-torn country.

"People like us, the leaders of Namibia, Angola, Uganda, Rwanda and myself do not need the United Nations to whip us so we can resolve the crisis. I believe we have the ability to work out a fast-track solution," he said.

Mugabe has sent 15,000 troops, along with tanks and warplanes, to support the government of the Congo.

Angola and Namibia have sent smaller numbers of troops to help Kabila fight splintered rebel armies who have been trying to oust him for two years.

The United Nations, which agreed in February to send 500 cease-fire observers and 5,500 troops to protect them, called off plans to deploy the first unit last month after Kabila refused to let them go to areas under his control.

Former Botswana President, Sir Ketumile Masire, given the task of organizing all-party national dialogue by the OAU, says the Congo government has blocked him from starting the job.

Rebels control the east and parts of the north of the Congo.