Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) guerrillas and government negotiators must agree a ceasefire before a planned heads of state summit this month, a mediator told delegates at peace talks that resumed in Kenya on Wednesday.
Attacks by Tutsi rebels from the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) have uprooted a quarter of a million civilians in DRC’s eastern North Kivu province since August.
Mediator and former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa told the negotiators in Nairobi plans were well under way for a summit in mid-January to update leaders from Africa’s Great Lakes region on the discussions.
”It will therefore be critical for you, during this session, to reach an understanding concerning a formal and joint cessation of hostilities, or truce, in order to alleviate the human suffering that continues,” he said.
The last round of talks in the Kenyan capital ended on December 20 with the rebels refusing to sign a joint ceasefire, or recommit to their unilateral truce from earlier in the month.
The talks to end the four-year conflict resumed after a split emerged in the CNDP on Tuesday when its top military commander openly challenged founder General Laurent Nkunda in an apparent power struggle.
Nkunda’s fighters routed President Joseph Kabila’s army in late August, capturing large swathes of mineral-rich North Kivu before declaring a ceasefire.
The battles triggered a humanitarian disaster in the border region, where fighting between rival guerrillas, militias and government troops has raged on despite a formal end to a wider 1998 to 2003 war in the former Belgian colony.
DRC’s 17 000-strong United Nations peacekeeping force is monitoring the situation closely in case of more clashes after the CNDP’s military chief of staff, General Bosco Ntaganda, said he had deposed Nkunda.
Senior CNDP military and political representatives rejected his statement.
Mkapa told delegates the security situation in eastern DRC remained ”deplorable” and that a truce now would be an important demonstration of their commitment to peace.
”We must constantly remind ourselves that the eyes of the DRC and the world will be focused on the unfolding developments in this dialogue process,” he said. — Reuters