/ 5 December 2008

Hope grows for an end to DRC fighting

The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and a rebel movement are to meet on Monday in Kenya to formalise a ceasefire, Kinshasa’s foreign minister said on Friday, raising hopes of an end to months of fighting in the east of the country.

At the same time, Congolese and Rwandan armed forces are to launch operations against Rwandan Hutu rebels operating in the same region following two days of talks, a statement said.

”A meeting will take place between representatives of the government of the DRC and the CNDP [National Congress for the Defence of the People] under the auspices of the United Nations and the mediator on December 8 in Nairobi,” Congolese Foreign Minister Alexis Thambe Mwamba said.

Speaking after talks with his Rwandan counterpart, Rosemary Museminali, Mwamba said the aim was to ”formalise the ceasefire” declared unilaterally by the rebels loyal to renegade general Laurent Nkunda at the end of October but broken by both sides since.

Nkunda, a Tutsi who claims to be defending his people against the Rwandan Hutus, has long demanded direct talks with the government to settle a conflict that has displaced about 250 000 people in the eastern province of Nord-Kivu.

Friday’s announcement followed two visits to the country by UN mediator Olusegun Obasanjo, the former president of Nigeria, who had talks with Congolese President Joseph Kabila and with Nkunda.

A joint statement by Mwamba and Museminali also said that Kigali and Kinshasa had agreed on a plan for military operations against Rwandan Hutus who fled to DRC after a Tutsi rebellion took control in Rwanda in the wake of the 1994 genocide there of Tutsis by Hutu extremists.

”The two sides have drawn up a detailed plan of operations against ex-soldiers of the Rwandan armed forces, Interhamwe militia and Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR),” a joint statement said.

Kigali has demanded for years that Kinshasa disarm the Hutus, who Nkunda claims are being supported by DRC government forces. Kinshasa for its part accuses Kigali of backing Nkunda’s rebellion, which Rwanda denies.

The two foreign ministers, who met in the Nord-Kivu capital of Goma, also said their respective governments wished to continue normalisation of relations between the two neighbours, including reopening embassies.

According to a diplomatic source in the main eastern city of Goma, the military operation against the FDLR would begin early in the new year and would be jointly led by a UN peacekeeping force known and the Congolese army, with ”significant” input from the Rwandans. — AFP