Congo Wants to Jointly Exploit Oil-rich Lake with Uganda

ARUSHA, Tanzania Sep 7, 2007 (AP)

Congo wants work with neighboring Uganda to exploit an oil-rich border lake that has been at the center of simmering tensions between the two countries, Congo's foreign minister said Friday.

Tension between Uganda and Congo rose last month following several cross border skirmishes that have left at least four dead - Ugandans, and one U.K. oil contractor that Congolese troops killed while his team were conducting seismic studies from a boat on the contested oil-rich Lake Albert area. Senior Congolese and Ugandan officials began talks in the northeastern Tanzanian town of Arusha Friday to ease the tensions.

Congolese and Ugandan officials have been discussing the issue this week in Tanzania, and the presidents of the two countries were to join the talks Friday. Congolese Foreign Affairs Minister Mbusa Nyamisi told the meeting that his country wants any oil in Lake Albert to be jointly exploited and Congo and Uganda to also have, "possibly a joint pipeline for petroleum from Lake Albert."

Nyamisi expressed optimism that Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, "has goodwill to see the tensions are diffused between the two neighboring countries."

Uganda's Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kutesa said they "hope to arrive at positive results."

"You have to be frank and open to arrive at an amicable solution," Tanzania's Foreign Affairs Minister Bernard Membe told his Congolese and Ugandan counterparts before they began talks.

Congo's President Joseph Kabila and Museveni are expected to arrive in Arusha later Friday.

This weekend's meeting follows a series that Ugandan and Congolese officials held last month. Among the things they have agreed on is a joint team to demarcate the contested lake area.

The exercise will determine who owns Rukwanzi - a small but strategic island in the southern tip of Lake Albert - which both countries claim as their own. The discovery of considerable reserves of oil in the Lake Albert area has fueled the violence.

In October, Museveni said Uganda had found oil in the Lake Albert area, with production expected to begin in 2009 and initial output to be between 6,000 and 10,000 barrels a day.

Mineral-rich eastern Congo - bordering Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi - remains the most unstable area in the country. Civilians are often caught in the crossfire between battling rival militias, which include groups from neighboring countries. Uganda occupied part of the region during the 1998-2002 war in Congo that engulfed six neighboring countries.

In addition, Uganda's conflict with its own rebel Lord's Resistance Army has spilled over into Congo.

Recent fighting between a renegade Congolese general battling Congolese government forces in eastern Congo have forced tens of thousands to flee their homes. Uganda reported Tuesday that it received about 10,000 refugees in a 24-hour period.

Copyright (c) 2007 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.