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UN envoy to meet Congo rebel leader

Text by AFP

Latest update : 2008-11-29

Making his second trip to Democratic Republic of Congo this month, former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo met on Friday with President Joseph Kabila. He is set to meet Saturday with Congo rebel leader Laurent Nkunda.


   
The UN's special envoy was set to meet Saturday with Congo rebel leader Laurent Nkunda after a fresh onslaught by his troops shattered a fragile truce and thousands more were displaced by clashes.
   
Making his second trip to Democratic Republic of Congo this month, former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo met on Friday with President Joseph Kabila.
   
Accompanied by former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa, Obasanjo met Kabila at his residence ahead of talks Saturday with Nkunda.
   
"The next step is that we are meeting Mr. Nkunda tomorrow," said Mkapa after talks lasting around 90 minutes. "We are meeting him because we want to see the elements of the way forward."
   
Friday's talks were held amid an advance by rebels near the Ugandan border that saw them seize of the town of Ishasha.
   
Mkapa refused to go into details of his discussions with Kabila, but warned Nkunda is unlikely to achieve his aim of direct talks with Kinshasa, at least in the short term.
   
"It would be very imprudent of him to ask for direct talks at once," the envoy said. "Dialogue does not necessarily have to start at the top."
   
Obasanjo's visit comes amid new tensions, with the UN refugee agency saying some 13,000 people have fled across the border into Uganda over the last couple of days to escape fighting.
   
Nkunda's rebels -- who claim to be protecting the local Tutsi population -- have clashed with pro-government Mai-Mai militia and advanced more than 30 kilometres (18 miles) north in less than 24 hours.
   
"There is a small CNDP presence in Ishasha," Lieutenant Colonel Jean-Paul Dietrich, spokesman for the UN peacekeepers, said Friday, referring to Nkunda's National Congress for the Defence of the People.
   
"A MONUC patrol is in the process of travelling to the location," he said, using the acronym for the UN mission.
   
The rebel movement however said Friday it was ready to retreat to its original position if MONUC secured the area.
   
"The CNDP troops are ready to withdraw on the Kiwanja-Ishasha axis on condition that MONUC deploys there so that no other forces can return," the rebel movement said in a message sent to the UN peacekeeping mission.
   
Nkunda's troops also stressed that their recent advance was not a "violation of the ceasefire" but an operation to secure an area controlled by Rwandan Hutu rebels collaborating with DR Congo armed forces, some of whom took part in the 1994 genocide of Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda.
   
But the pro-government Mai-Mai militia on Friday accused the rebels of attacking them on five fronts.
   
The UN refugee agency on Friday said it had begun moving displaced civilians from camps near Goma, the capital of the volatile Nord-Kivu province.
   
The relocation to safer camps to the west of Goma will run through the weekend and it eventually plans to move about 30,000 of the 67,000 displaced housed at Kibati.
   
Long-simmering tensions between the Kinshasa government and Nkunda spilled over into a new conflict in August, displacing some 250,000 people and creating a humanitarian disaster.
   
UN peacekeepers in the country have struggled to bring calm to the area.
   
Congolese troops have been accused of carrying out looting sprees, while rebels are also alleged to have committed atrocities.
   
France's ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Jean-Baptiste Mattei, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said Friday that there is "tangible evidence that war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed" in Nord-Kivu.
   
"We have to put an end to what is unacceptable. Rape must not be accepted as a weapon of war and sexual abuse must not be simply considered as collateral damage," he said.
   
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay also spoke out against the "steady deterioration of the human rights situation" in the sprawling central African nation.
   
The UN Security Council has authorised sending 3,000 reinforcements to the country, where 17,000 peacekeepers are already based, making it the largest United Nations peacekeeping force in the world.
   
Obasanjo met with both Nkunda and Kabila during his last visit in mid-November, and said afterwards that the rebel leader wanted direct peace talks with the government, which Kabila has always rejected.
  

Date created : 2008-11-29

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