Kenya hosts DR Congo crisis talks

Other News Materials 7 November 2008 11:42 (UTC +04:00)

Heads of state and mediators have gathered in Nairobi to revive peace efforts in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) after the collapse of a truce and displacement of thousands by fighting.

One of the main goals of the meeting in the Kenyan capital is to restart dialogue between Joseph Kabila, the Congolese president, and his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame, reproted Aljazeera.

The emergency summit begins on Friday, a day after Congolese rebel forces captured another town in Nord-Kivu province and amid warnings by rights groups of civilian killings.

Human Rights Watch said on Thursday that both forces of rebel commander Laurent Nkunda and a pro-government militia had killed at least 20 civilians in recent fighting.

Attending the Nairobi summit will be Ban Ki-moon, the UN chief; the presidents of the DRC, Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Burundi; and Olusegun Obasanjo, the UN's newly appointed envoy to the DRC and former Nigerian president.

Thousands of civilians have fled fighting in eastern Congo despite an official ceasefire.

Civilians escaping clashes said the attacks had been started by pro-government Mai-Mai militia members.

The bodies of adult males - five in a single room - bore marks of being hit by rockets or grenades.

There were no indications that the dead men had been fighters and some were reported as wearing work overalls.

The unrest has raised fears of further fighting.

Rutshuru, a town close to Kiwanja, was seized last week by Nkunda's Tutsi fighters, who are fighting Congolese government forces.

Hundreds of civilians have taken shelter at a ruined primary school close to a UN peacekeepers' camp. Smoke rose from nearby.

Forces loyal to Nkunda were reported to have driven Mai-Mai members out of Kiwanja on Wednesday, causing residents to flee.

UN peacekeepers said they had launched an operation around the town, to try to halt the fighting.

They also said they would secure the release of a Belgian journalist working for a German newspaper, who UN said had been seized by the Mai-Mai.

The Nord-Kivu government army commander blamed the militia for the clashes and said his own forces would respect the ceasefire.

Al Jazeera's Mohammed Adow, reporting from the DR Congo, said the newly appointed Congolese prime minister intimated the government was ready to listen to "Nkunda and other dissident groups".

"The announcement that the government is ready to talk peace with Nkunda will come as a relief to the more than 600,000 residents [of Goma]. With rebels just 12km away, the city is virtually under siege and there are already shortages of food and medical supplies," he said.

On Wednesday, Nkunda said he was upholding the ceasefire he declared last week after halting his forces' advance towards Goma, where aid agencies are struggling to help some of an estimated million refugees displaced by two years of conflict in Nord-Kivu.

"It's still being maintained," Nkunda told Reuters by telephone from his hilltop headquarters in North Kivu.

Arthur Kepel, an analyst with the International Crisis Group in Congo's capital, Kinshasa, told Al Jazeera that it was "very significant" that the goverment is willing to enter talks with the rebels.

"It is only through dialogue that the ceasefire can be implemented ... it is really the answer if one has to stop this crisis," he said.

The conflict in eastern Congo, which persists years after the end of a wider 1998-2003 war, is fuelled by ethnic hatred left over from Rwanda's 1994 genocide.

Nkunda claims the Congolese government has not protected ethnic Tutsis from the Rwandan Hutu militia that escaped to Congo after helping slaughter a half-million Rwandan Tutsis.

Nkunda, who defected from the army in 2004, now says he is fighting to liberate all of Congo from a corrupt government.

He went on the offensive on August 28 and brought his fighters to the edge of Goma last week before declaring a unilateral ceasefire.