DRC: 'A cause for grave concern'

Former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo urged the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) president on Monday to talk with Tutsi rebel leader General Laurent Nkunda to prevent the conflict in eastern DRC from escalating into a new war.

Obasanjo, United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon’s special peace envoy for the DRC, spoke to reporters after briefing Ban on his mediation efforts.

He said Nkunda had presented three main demands—direct talks with the Congolese government, protection of minorities, and integration of his soldiers and administrators in rebel-controlled areas into the Congolese army and government.

“He has made demands that I do not consider outrageous,” Obasanjo said, adding that DRC President Joseph Kabila’s government could meet Nkunda to “iron out” details.

“The government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is not averse to such a dialogue,” he said.

After weeks of fighting, Nkunda’s Tutsi rebels last week pulled back from some positions in North Kivu province. Nkunda declared a truce in late October, when he halted his advance on the provincial capital, Goma, leading to relative calm.

Obasanjo, who has met with Nkunda, Kabila and leaders of Angola and Rwanda, was asked by reporters if the Congolese president had withdrawn his objections to holding any kind of direct talks with the Tutsi rebel leader.

“He did not say he will not talk,” Obasanjo said.

Obasanjo said his next round of talks with key players in the DRC crisis would focus on arranging a meeting between the Congolese government and Nkunda’s rebels.

Rampant rights abuses
Separately, Ban’s office said in a new report obtained by Reuters that government soldiers and rebels in DRC had committed serious human right abuses, calling the situation in the vast central African state “a cause for grave concern”.

Details of the report, prepared for the UN Security Council, emerged as New York-based Human Rights Watch said abuses against civilians were continuing on both sides of the east DRC frontlines despite a lull in fighting that had displaced a quarter of a million people.

Ban’s report said elements of the Congolese army and national police were responsible for many serious violations like arbitrary executions, rape, torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment earlier this year.

Last week, the council approved an increase of 3 000 troops and police in the UN peacekeeping mission in DRC, bringing the biggest such UN force in the world to 20 000. The aim is to prevent the North Kivu conflict from escalating into a wider war.

The UN report said rebels, including Nkunda’s National Congress for the Defence of the People, and Rwandan Hutu fighters accused of participating in Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, had “perpetrated serious human rights abuses with impunity”.

Abuses included “mass killings, torture, abductions, forced recruitment of children, forced displacement and destruction of [refugee] camps, forced labour, sexual violence”.

It also accused Congolese national civilian and military intelligence services of arbitrary arrests and detentions followed by “torture and extortion.”

It said members of DRC’s security forces, politicians and government officials had targeted journalists and human rights activists, some of whom were threatened and arrested.—Reuters

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