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By Derek Kilner
18 November 2008
In eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, rebels say they will pull their forces back from front lines near the town of Kanyabayonga, north of the provincial capital Goma, to allow U.N. peacekeepers to patrol the area. Derek Kilner has more from VOA's East Africa bureau in Nairobi.
Rebels from Laurent Nkunda's National Congress for Defense of the People have advanced to within 20 kilometers of the town Kanyabayonga, 90 kilometers north of Goma. Nkunda says his forces will stop to allow the U.N. peacekeeping force, known as MONUC, into the area.
|Rebel General Laurent Nkunda (C) walks in the courtyard of a house after speaking with the press in the town of Kitshoumba, 02 Nov 2008 |
France introduced a resolution in the U.N. Security Council to increase the number of peacekeepers in the DRC by around 3,000, a measure that is expected to be approved later this week. The 17,000-member U.N. mission has about 5,000 peacekeepers in North Kivu Province the site of the recent fighting.
Government troops retreating from Kanyabayonga clashed with the Mai Mai militia, who are generally government allies. The rebels say they were preparing an ambush for Nkunda's rebels when the government troops moved in. The militia also reported government soldiers were looting villages.
Responding to the army's lack of success in confronting Nkunda's forces, as well as accusations of crimes against civilians, President Joseph Kabila dismissed the army chief of staff Dieudonne Kayembe, replacing him Monday with General Didier Etumba.
Meanwhile, international envoys continue to push for a lasting ceasefire.
Africa Policy Institute President Peter Kagwanja says there is a need for high-level international pressure on the parties to negotiate, including the threat of sanctions. But, he says that African diplomacy has so far been hobbled by divisions between countries.
"The various African parties seem to be increasingly getting divided over the question of Congo, a kind of repeat of the 1998-2003 confrontation by various African forces within the Congolese territory," said Kagwanja. "What has been mentioned now is Angola is now backing the government.
"On the other hand, Rwanda is accused of supporting Laurent Nkunda, and I guess Uganda would also throw its weight behind some of these forces, but it has not done so yet. Parallel to the various diplomatic interventions by African leaders, there is also a need to put the African house in order," he added.
Nkunda has called for direct negotiations with the government. The government has rejected such an approach, insisting that any discussion must involve all of the armed groups operating in the country's east.
Kagwanja says the international community should support direct talks.
"I found it a very comical situation when the various governments met in Nairobi and the conspicuous absentee was Nkunda," he said. "There did not seem even to be a proxy for Nkunda. Now, a talk with Nkunda is essential. It will ensure that he is no longer seen as a proxy of Rwanda and therefore parties to this conflict war crimes will begin to be dissaggregated. Nkunda can come straight and say 'these are my grievances, and this is how I would like them solved.'"
Nkunda's objectives remain murky. He says he is protecting the Tutsi ethnic group in eastern Congo from attacks by Hutu militias, who he says have cooperated with the government. He has also raised concerns with the growing economic ties between Congo and ...
An estimated 250,000 people have been displaced since fighting resumed in August, adding to the hundreds of thousands in the region from previous rounds of clashes.