- Title: DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: Rebels threaten action as peace talks flounder
- Date: 24th December 2008
- Summary: WOMAN LYING ON GROUND UNITED NATIONS SOLDIERS IN VEHICLE NEAR CAMP
- Embargoed: 8th January 2009 12:00
- Topics: Domestic Politics
- Reuters ID: LVABNXLRTOKG10COVPJH71MJ3KHT
- Story Text: Congolese Tutsi rebels threatened to advance into UN-monitored buffer zones in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo after refusing to sign a declaration ending hostilities with the government, the rebels said.
Following several days of UN-backed talks in Nairobi, Kenya, the rebels led by renegade General Laurent Nkunda also declined to recommit to their own unilaterally declared ceasefire in DR Congo's North Kivu province.
This raised fears of a collapse of a fragile truce and of a renewal of fighting which had already driven more than a quarter of a million civilians from their homes since late August, triggering a humanitarian emergency in North Kivu.
Nkunda's National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) accused government soldiers and their allies, which include Rwandan Hutu rebels, of sending troops and militia into disengagement zones intended to separate the belligerents.
"The message is that one must have hope. We are negotiating in Nairobi, we have accepted these negotiations and even encouraged them. We know that we will return on January 7th but we want the government to tell the truth to its people. It violated our ceasefire, it deployed in positions we had disengaged from. The Congolese people bear witness, they are our witness everyday. The government should respect us as partners and we hope that they will do so," Nkunda said at a rally organised in the town of Rutshuru in eastern Congo, around 90 kilometres from the region's main town, Goma.
UN peacekeepers in Congo said they had detected no Congolese army movements into the buffer zones.
After launching their offensive in late August, Nkunda's battle-hardened fighters routed President Joseph Kabila's army and captured swathes of territory in North Kivu before declaring a unilateral ceasefire in late October. This ended major battles with government forces but the CNDP continued to skirmish with pro-government Mai-Mai militia and Rwandan Hutu rebels.
The talks in Nairobi aimed at cementing the ceasefire and forging a lasting peace appeared to be floundering. The peace talks were due to resume on January 7.
The UN fears that unless a political settlement can be reached the North Kivu conflict could escalate into a repeat of a 1998-2003 war which sucked in neighbouring states and devastated the vast, mineral-rich former Belgian colony.
Displaced people in the Kiwanja camp near the eastern town of Goma say their situation is getting worse.
"We are suffering a lot. We are really worried when we go into town. Now we are afraid of everyone. We used to be afraid of animals, but now it is people we are afraid of, because some people have become like dangerous animals," said Joseph Mamana, an internally displaced person.
"Look at me, I am poor and handicapped and on top of it also a refugee. I do not have even the utensils I need to cook with, no clothes. I am exactly as you see me," added Maria Nzariturande, another IDP.
Experts say longstanding ethnic enmities between Tutsis and Hutus in eastern Congo, stemming from neighbouring Rwanda's 1994 genocide of Tutsis by Hutus, have fuelled the conflict, along with battles to control lucrative minerals deposits.
The rebel negotiators in Nairobi called for representatives of the Congolese national assembly and senate to act as facilitators at the talks.
While this was rejected by the Congolese government, the mediators said in their statement both sides were still committed to the talks.
The Security Council on Monday (December 22) renewed the mandate of hard-pressed UN peacekeepers in the DR Congo until the end of 2009, with terms diplomats said would help them fight rebels independently of Congo's army.
The Security Council last month approved an extra 3,000 peacekeepers to strengthen its peacekeeping force of 17,000 in Congo. But Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said it could take six months to deploy and called on the European Union to send troops.
The European Union has so far failed to agree on a response to a request by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for a "bridging force"
to help the 17,000-strong U.N. mission in Congo, known by its French acronym MONUC.
But the Democratic Republic of Congo said on Tuesday (December 23) it expects the European Union to send equipment to help bolster a UN peacekeeping mission in Congo rather than its own additional peacekeeping force.
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