DRC rebels claim new territorial advance

Congolese rebel forces said on Monday they had taken new territory and threatened more attacks against government troops as a United Nations envoy warned against expecting quick results from a peace mission.

A day after renegade general Laurent Nkunda said he wanted peace talks, his spokesperson said the rebels had repelled the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) army in the latest fighting and now controlled all the area around the town of Rwindi.

“Our troops control all of the Rwindi zone” in eastern Nord-Kivu province, Nkunda spokesperson Bertrand Bisimwa told Agence France-Presse.

He added that government forces had been pushed back to the lakeside area of Vitshumbi, about 15km north-east of Rwindi, in Sunday’s clashes, but added there was no fresh fighting on Monday.

“The government forces are stuck at Vitshumbi, they have no choice but to run away across the lake or through the forest,” said Bisimwa.

“We are going to advance on Vitshumbi and silence the government forces. We are going to impose a ceasefire on them.”

Aid agencies are concerned that the continued fighting is making the plight of an estimated 250 000 displaced people in eastern DRC increasingly desperate.

Troops from a UN peacekeeping force found themselves caught between Nkunda’s men and government forces in Sunday’s violence around Rwindi, which is about 100km north of the Nord-Kivu provincial capital, Goma.

While the UN mission in DRC (Monuc) said the town was calm on Monday, one Indian peacekeeper was reported wounded over the weekend.

Meanwhile, shuttle diplomacy to try to end the fighting continued on Monday. Britain’s minister with responsibility for Africa Mark Malloch-Brown began a three-day trip, during which he was to meet President Joseph Kabila in Kinshasa and visit the flashpoint city of Goma, threatened by the rebels.

Former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, appointed by UN chief Ban Ki-moon earlier this month as a peace envoy for Congo, said Nkunda wants international guarantees that his forces can integrate into the national army.

Nkunda “is not talking about anything that will keep him and his people out of the country”, Obasanjo told reporters in Nairobi a day after meeting Nkunda deep inside rebel-held territory.

“He is talking about the integration of his soldiers into the national army and he is even ready to continue serving in the army, a career he loves,” Obasanjo said.

“He wants an assurance from the UN and AU [African Union] on these,” Obasanjo added.

In an interview broadcast on Monday, Obasanjo insisted Nkunda was someone he could do business with but said his mediation efforts could not be expected to yield instant results.

“I believe he’s a reasonable man that can listen and react to persuasion,” he told the BBC.

He also played down expectations of immediate results following his visit.

“You don’t come on one visit and bring about solution to a problem that has been there since 1960,” he said.

“That problem is still here today and you think that one visit will solve it? Anyone who would bring that about would be God.”

Despite Obasanjo’s insistence that Nkunda was open to persuasion, the Tutsi rebel leader appears to have ruled out the possibility that Monuc might be part of a tripartite committee that would monitor a ceasefire.

After his talks with Obasanjo, Nkunda said he was willing to work with the former Nigerian leader.

“Today is a great day for us because we were losing many men and now we have a message of peace. We should work with this mission,” he said.

However Obasanjo said while Nkunda supported the establishment of a body to monitor a ceasefire, he was against Monuc’s participation.—AFP

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