On his second mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo, UN special envoy Olusegun Obasanjo said talks Saturday with rebel leader Laurent Nkunda had helped advance peace moves, even as fresh fighting was reported.
UN special envoy Olusegun Obasanjo said talks Saturday with rebel leader Laurent Nkunda helped advance peace moves in Democratic Republic of Congo, even as fresh fighting was reported in the east.
The discussions -- which also involved representatives of pro-government Mai-Mai and Hutu militia -- were "able to advance the cause of peace," Obasanjo told reporters, despite Nkunda's insistence that without direct negotiations with Kinshasa there would be "war."
The talks took place amid United Nations reports of fresh clashes in Masisi, 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the Nord-Kivu provincial capital Goma, between Nkunda's men and the Mai-Mai, a spokesman for the UN peacekeeping mission MONUC said.
The closed-door meeting between Obasanjo, the former Nigerian president, and Nkunda took place early afternoon in the rebel-held town of Jomba.
But afterwards, Nkunda continued to hold out for direct talks with the government of Congo President Joseph Kabila.
Negotiation was "the good way," Nkunda said after the meeting, warning that "if there is not negotiation, there is war."
Obasanjo has said Kabila, whom he met in Kinshasa on Friday, had not ruled out talks between the government and Nkunda's National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) rebel group.
But the government rejected the demand despite Nkunda's war threat.
"Kinshasa has not given up its position," government spokesman Lambert Mende said, stressing there were "no mechanisms to favour one group over others" and that any talks should include all armed groups in the region.
Nkunda also claimed to have no knowledge of the fighting in Masisi between his forces and the Mai-Mai, according to a UN official, who declined to be identified.
"He said it was FDLR provocation," the official told AFP, referring to Hutu rebels.
Nkunda also dismissed as "allegations" UN accusations of war-crimes perpetrated by his fighters earlier this month in the Kiwanja region, some 80 kilometres north of Goma.
The cashiered general, who claims he is defending the Tutsi minority in the region, also said he wanted members of the Rwandan Hutu militia operating in the region to go "back in their country".
Some of the Hutus participated in Rwanda's 1994 genocide.
Nkunda's rebels insist they are respecting a ceasefire with the government, despite clashes with pro-government Mai-Mai militia that sent more than 13,000 civilians fleeing into neighbouring Uganda on Friday.
Shortly before the latest round of talks, Nkunda apologised for the behaviour of his fighters before several hundred villagers.
"I'm sorry if the soldiers behaved badly and I will always try to instill more discipline," Nkunda said, making veiled reference to UN accusations that his men had committed "odious crimes" against civilians.
Obasanjo was accompanied by another African ex-president, Benjamin Mkapa of Tanzania, who represented the African Union at the talks.
Sendugu Museveni, a leader of the PARECO pro-government militia who attended the talks, said he was "very disappointed" with the meeting, describing the two ex-presidents as "tourists" who "came to reinforce Nkunda."
The talks have been overshadowed by the renewed fighting, after rebels seized the town of Ishasha near the Ugandan border this past week after clashes with the Mai-Mai.
French Human Rights Minister Rama Yade arrived Saturday in Kinshasa for a three-day visit that will see her visit refugee camps in Nord-Kivu.
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 also been accused of carrying out looting sprees.
Date created : 2008-11-30