/ 12 October 2008

AU chief in DRC peace bid

African Union chief Jean Ping on Saturday met Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) President Joseph Kabila and other officials to try to end fighting in the volatile east between the army and rebels.

”I have come to meet with Congolese authorities to understand the situation on the ground [in Nord-Kivu] before putting forward solutions,” Ping told reporters on his arrival in the country on Friday.

Ping on Saturday met the heads of both Houses of Parliament, as well as with Alan Doss, the head of the UN mission in the DRC (Monuc), and other Western diplomats.

His visit comes after Kabila called on Thursday for a renewed offensive against forces loyal to rebel leader Laurent Nkunda.

”Over and above any political divide, we must mobilise as one behind our armed forces and our elected representatives to preserve peace and the unity and [territorial] integrity of the country,” said Kabila in a televised address.

The president argued that Nkunda’s aim was ”not to protect his ethnic community as he has always claimed but to divide the country to bring about the expansionism of a neighbouring territory”, referring to Rwanda.

The country’s new Prime Minister, Adolphe Muzito, on Saturday told Radio France Internationale that he would go to the restive east ”very soon”, and underlined that he would work ”on three or four fronts” to bring peace.

The aim is to ”reinforce discipline and give the resources and control over them so that they are not used to attack anyone but to defend the country”, said Muzito, who was named prime minister on Friday.

Renewed fighting broke out August 28 with government troops and Nkunda’s CNDP violating a ceasefire reached under the Goma peace accord in January.

The rebels on Friday withdrew from an army base in the eastern DRC at Monuc’s request after having taken it in fierce fighting.

They took the Rumangabo base, about 50km north of the provincial capital of Goma, on Thursday after an intense battle.

DRC officials this week alleged that Rwandan troops had aided Nkunda’s forces to capture Rumangabo, and accused Kigali of planning to attack Goma. Rwandan officials denied the charges.

A five-year conflict pitting government forces, supported by Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe, against rebels backed by Uganda and Rwanda, ended in 2003 after claiming more than three million lives. — Sapa-AFP