/ 22 February 2008

DRC peace deal faces hitch over massacre charges

A month-old peace accord in east Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) faced a fresh hitch on Friday when Tutsi rebels halted participation in a ceasefire commission in protest at United Nations allegations they had massacred civilians.

The move announced by renegade Tutsi General Laurent Nkunda posed a potential threat to the January 23 ceasefire and peace pact signed by Nkunda’s rebels, Congolese President Joseph Kabila’s government and rival eastern militia groups.

The United Nations and Western governments brokered the deal in the hope of establishing a lasting peace in DRC’s turbulent east, where rebel and militia violence has persisted long after the formal end of a 1998 to 2003 war in the Central African state.

Nkunda was reacting to allegations by UN investigators that his Tutsi fighters killed at least 30 Hutu civilians last month while his rebel group negotiated the peace deal, which has already been strained by renewed skirmishes in the east.

”We are demanding these things be verified by a mixed investigation made up of the government, the UN and us,” Nkunda said by telephone.

Denying his rebel group was involved in the alleged massacre, Nkunda said: ”They are spreading rumours, and we cannot accept that this continues”.

Nkunda said that until an independent inquiry was launched, his representatives were suspending their participation in an ad-hoc commission tasked with sorting out technical aspects of the ceasefire and plotting the future course of the peace process.

But a rebel spokesperson said the move did not mean that Nkunda’s National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) insurgent group was withdrawing definitively from the ceasefire and peace pact signed last month.

There was no immediate reaction to Nkunda’s statement from the UN Mission in DRC, which has 17 000 peacekeeping troops in the vast, mineral-rich former Belgian colony. — Reuters