DRC rebels rejoin peace conference

Tutsi rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on Friday rejoined a peace conference aimed at ending long-running conflict in the east, a day after suspending their participation over security concerns.

The rebels’ leader, renegade General Laurent Nkunda, told Reuters he was ready if necessary to take part in the meeting, which opened on Sunday in Goma, the capital of eastern North Kivu province.

The talks have brought together representatives of President Joseph Kabila’s government, local leaders, and warring rebel and militia factions in a bid to end fighting that has displaced more than 400 000 people in North Kivu in the past year.

Delegates from the Tutsi-dominated insurgency led by Nkunda stayed away from conference meetings on Thursday after they said their military spokesperson was threatened with arrest.

But Nkunda, speaking by phone from his mountain stronghold in eastern DRC, said his delegates had since received assurances from the conference organisers about their security and had returned to the talks.

“The incident was managed ... This morning [Friday] they are back in the room with all the others,” Nkunda said.

The rebels had said Major Seraphin Mirindi, Nkunda’s military spokesperson, had been threatened with arrest after an official of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in DRC accused him of involvement in the 2001 assassination of former DRC President Laurent Kabila.

UN officials said the incident was a simple case of mistaken identity and denied Mirindi had been threatened with arrest or intimidated in any way.

Since it was first announced by Congolese authorities late last year, the Goma peace conference has experienced delays and setbacks and neither Nkunda nor Kabila have participated so far, raising some doubts about what the meeting will achieve.

“[Our delegates] are capable of discussing on their own. That doesn’t necessarily demand my presence,” Nkunda said.
“But if it does become necessary, I am ready to go there,” he added.

Combat between government forces, Nkunda loyalists, local Mai Mai militia and Rwandan Hutu rebels has continued in eastern DRC, despite the official end of a broader 1998 to 2003 war that killed an estimated four million people.

Kabila, who vowed to pacify DRC’s east after winning elections in the vast, former Belgian colony last year, called the peace conference after an offensive by his forces last month crumbled in the face of stiff resistance from Nkunda’s fighters.

Nkunda has led an eastern revolt since 2004 in defence of DRC’s minority Tutsi people, whom he says are under threat from Rwandan Hutu rebels accused of participation in Rwanda’s 1994 genocide against Tutsis. He accuses Kabila’s forces of backing the Hutu rebels, a charge denied by the president.

DRC’s opposition has accused Kabila’s government of capitulating to Nkunda’s rebels in holding the Goma talks.—Reuters