Rebel leader Laurent Nkunda insisted his forces were keeping to an agreed ceasefire and denied they were gearing up for a fresh offensive in the DR Congo, while European ministers deplored the ongoing violence in the region.
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Rebels in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo Monday said they were holding to a ceasefire despite some skirmishes, as European ministers lamented the deteriorating situation but made no offers to send troops.
Laurent Nkunda, Tutsi leader of the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) guerrillas, also denied his rebel forces were gearing up for a new offensive.
"In the last few days, we have always been attacked by the government coalition. We are defending ourselves, but we maintain that the ceasefire must continue," Nkunda told AFP in the village of Kirolirwe, around 20 kilometres (12 miles) north of the Nord-Kivu provincial capital, Goma.
"We declared the ceasefire, and we're still sticking to it," he said.
The CNDP grabbed control of several towns in Nord-Kivu province last month in an offensive which brought them to the outskirts of Goma, before declaring a ceasefire October 29.
"There's no advantage in gaining territory. The advantage is to open Kinshasa's ears," said Nkunda, whose calls for direct negotiations with Congolese President Joseph Kabila have so far been rejected by Kinshasa.
European foreign ministers meeting in Brussels Monday expressed concern about the security and humanitarian situation, which has seen 250,000 people displaced and access to aid blocked. At least 100 civilians have died in the conflict, according to Human Rights Watch.
"Sadly the situation is in decline," said French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, whose country currently holds the European Union's rotating presidency.
"The humanitarian situation is more than disastrous, difficult to accept," he said. "Will the UN forces be able to deal with it? I don't know."
Apart from a brief exchange of fire in Kikuku, 90 kilometres north of Goma, the region was reported to be calm on Monday, according to the UN peacekeeping force MONUC.
With the apparent lull in fighting, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said in Geneva that it had managed to distribute food to some 65,000 displaced persons in the Kibati area north of Goma.
Nkunda also told AFP he was encouraged by international efforts including an AFrican summit in Nairobi on Friday to bring about a political solution to the crisis.
"It's on that I'm counting the most," he said.
Meanwhile, the EU foreign ministers issued a statement after their Monday meeting that they would closely monitor the situation in DR Congo but made no commitment to send troops.
"We should wait for the assessment by the UN investigator ... and then it will be for every country of the world to consider its own position," British Foreign Secretary David Miliband told reporters.
On Sunday leaders from countries of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) said they were prepared to send peacekeepers to the region if necessary and would immediately dispatch a military team to advise the DR Congo forces.
But the Kinshasa government also raised the spectre of deploying Angolan troops to the region, which Nkunda's spokesman denounced as a move that could once again ignite the entire Great Lakes region.
Between 1998 and 2003, the DR Congo, then known as Zaire, was devastated by a regional war with neighbouring Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi fighting on Congolese territory directly or by supporting rebel groups.
Angola, a former Portuguese colony, was part of a coalition that backed Kinshasa in the conflict.
On Monday, Nkunda, who claims he has heard some soldiers speaking Portuguese, added: "I cannot confirm that Angolans are in Congo."
Date created : 2008-11-11