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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Peace Gains Ground in War-Torn Africa

NAIROBI, Kenya -- Peace efforts in Africa suddenly seem to be making progress, with major breakthroughs toward ending fighting in Congo, Sudan and Burundi in less than a week. While Africa's truces historically have far outnumbered lasting peace agreements, important progress in those three major hot spots provides some grounds for optimism on the war-weary continent.

The reasons for movement are varied, but all the plans have in common offers of financial rewards for peace, increased U.S. diplomatic attention and renewed commitments by African leaders eager to improve their reputations and economies.

Early this month, Africa's heads of state transformed the weak Organization for African Unity into the African Union, which is intended to move aggressively to address the problems of the world's poorest continent. During the Group of Eight summit in May, African leaders also committed to the New Partnership for African Development. The premise is simple: Africans promise to sort out the continent's problems to international standards and Western governments give them cash and encourage corporate investment.

Francois Grignon, an analyst with the International Crisis Group, believes the African Union, currently led by South African President Thabo Mbeki, desperately wants to show it can do more than the toothless OAU.

"The African Union has put high on its agenda the issues of peace and conflict resolution," he said.

An estimated 2.5 million people have died from fighting, disease and hunger during Congo's four-year war, which has drawn in six other African nations. Under an accord mediated by South African Deputy President Jacob Zuma, Rwanda has agreed to withdraw its troops if Congo rounds up, disarms and repatriates ethnic Hutu militiamen blamed for the 1994 slaughter of half a million people in Rwanda.

To encourage the effort, international donors have promised Congolese President Joseph Kabila financial benefits for peace. The World Bank made a $450 million loan dependent on a peace agreement, with promises of more money when peace takes hold.

Washington helped finance the talks and sent Mark Bellamy, the deputy assistant secretary of state for Africa, to push Congo and Rwanda toward an agreement. Kabila said he would travel to South Africa to sign a new accord Tuesday with Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

The U.S. administration has played a high-profile role in the Sudanese peace talks, with U.S. President George W. Bush appointing former U.S. Senator John Danforth his special envoy. Danforth helped negotiate an important truce last year and cajoled both government and rebels into getting serious about peace talks.

This month's peace talks were mediated by Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi, acting with the backing of the African Union. Scheduled to retire later this year and eager to burnish his image, Moi made clear he wanted an agreement in Sudan before he stepped down.

A breakthrough was reached a week ago, when government and rebel officials announced they had agreed on the right of self-determination and religious freedom for the southern Sudanese. Both sides said that with those issues resolved, they expected to wrap up quickly a full peace accord next month, including how to share the country's oil wealth.

On Saturday, Sudan President Omar el-Bashir and John Garang, leader of the Kenyan-based Sudan People's Liberation Army, met for two hours and endorsed a framework for talks to end the 19-year civil war, Africa's longest conflict, which has killed about 2 million people.

South Africa's Zuma also has played an important role in helping Nelson Mandela mediate talks on ending Burundi's eight-year civil war, which has killed more than 200,000 people.