THE GOVERNMENT of the Democratic Republic of Congo has started paying off a debt of R136m owed to South African operator Spoornet following renationalisation of the railways in the former Zaire. The aim is to restore relations damaged last year when Laurent Kabila’s regime seized the railway and rolling stock, and cancelled the operating concession held by Spoornet-backed concessionaire Sizarail in which the Mobutu government held a small stake (RG 6.97 p358). Sizarail’s Belgian Managing Director Patrick Claes was jailed for six months without charges, but released in mid-February. Sizarail has now been liquidated.

Payment of the debt is being made through Comazar, which is owned 65% by Spoornet and 35% by Belgian National Railways through its consulting arm Transurb (RG 2.98 p82). Repayment is scheduled to run for a five-year period. The DRC government has also signed a six-month agreement to lease rolling stock from Comazar to ensure that rail services continue to run on the network, now known as SNCC. Still to be settled is a debt of US$16·2m for the concession rights and railway assets confiscated last year. Spoornet Executive Director Mafik Makwanazi says the company is taking a long-term view, in the light of Comazar’s aspirations elsewhere in Africa (RG 3.98 p138). o