/ 17 January 2009

Dissident rebels declare end of conflict in DRC

Dissident commanders from the main rebel group in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on Friday declared an end to the conflict in the troubled region.

The renegade rebels led by Bosco Ntaganda, chief of staff of the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), also vowed to pave the way for displaced civilians to return to their homes and allow rebels to join the army.

”We, members of the chiefs of staff of the CNDP, declare before the entire Congolese people … the end, from today, January 16 2008, of hostilities between CNDP and FARDC [the Congolese army],” the renegade rebels said in a statement read by Colonel Esaie Munyakazi.

The dissidents issued the statement after a meeting in Goma, the capital of Nord-Kivu province, with Interior Minister Celestin Mbuyu and Congolese and Rwandan army chiefs.

The CNDP has been hit by a leadership crisis since Ntaganda announced on January 5 that Laurent Nkunda had been sacked as its leader for ”poor leadership”.

Nkunda, in turn, has said that Ntaganda was ”no longer in a position to issue orders to the army of the CNDP”.

The rebel faction still loyal to Nkunda was not immediately available for comment on Friday’s announcement.

The dissidents said in their statement that the CNDP and the army would remove all roadblocks so that people could move freely within Nord-Kivu and displaced people could return to their homes.

Hundreds of thousands of civilians were displaced in eastern DRC after fighting flared-up between the CNDP and government forces in August, sparking a humanitarian crisis.

The renegade rebels also said they were immediately putting ”all CNDP combat forces at the disposal of the FARDC high command for their integration into the national army”.

They also asked the government to ”speed up the promulgation of the amnesty law covering acts of insurrection in the war” in accordance with a past accord. Ntganda’s faction added it was ”ready” to join the fight against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, a group of Rwandan Hutu rebels who have operated in eastern DRC since the 1994 genocide, causing a great deal of tension between Kinshasa and Kigali.

The announcement came after talks in Nairobi between the CNDP and the Congolese government were suspended without a formal ceasefire agreement. The two sides were scheduled to meet again January 25.

In a television interview, the government’s spokesperson, Communications Minister Lambert Mende, called on the ”Nkunda group” to ”come to their senses”.

Mende also welcomed the announcement from the renegade commanders as ”a ray of hope for the Congolese people”. — Sapa-AFP