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U.N. troubleshooter starts talks on Congo crisis
Fri Nov 14, 2008 9:25pm EST
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By Hereward Holland
KIWANJA, Congo (Reuters) - Aid workers in eastern Congo began feeding tens of thousands of hungry refugees in rebel-held areas on Friday and a U.N.-appointed envoy started urgent talks aimed at averting a wider war.
Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, named by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as his special envoy for eastern Congo, met Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos in Luanda and then flew on to the Congolese capital Kinshasa.
Obasanjo, tasked with seeking a lasting solution to the conflict in Democratic Republic of Congo's North Kivu province, was to hold talks with Congolese President Joseph Kabila.
Obasanjo said he wanted to meet rebel leader Laurent Nkunda.
"Yesterday, by telephone, I spoke to my brother Nkunda ... everything will be done to meet with him face to face," he told Reuters at Luanda airport before leaving for Kinshasa. He said details were still being worked out.
Fighting between Nkunda's Tutsi rebels and the Congolese army has forced some 250,000 people from their homes in North Kivu since late August, resulting in what the U.N. has called a humanitarian catastrophe and fears of a broader war.
For the first time after weeks of fighting, U.N. aid workers on Friday handed out rations of maize and lentils to the first of at least 50,000 hungry civilians in Rutshuru territory, the scene of weeks of battles between rebel and government forces.
Under a hot sun, men, women and children lined up quietly in a church compound and a football stadium after the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) convoy crossed the front lines.
Obasanjo said he was hopeful his mission could achieve peace. "I'm confident, but it will not be easy," he said.
There are fears fighting could escalate into a repeat of a 1998-2003 war that sucked in six African states and led to millions of deaths.
Kabila accuses neighboring Rwanda of supporting Nkunda, while southern African states led by Angola have said they are considering sending troops to back the Congolese army, or to bolster a stretched 17,000-strong U.N. force in Congo.
Obasanjo said he had received assurances from Angola that no Angolan troops were fighting with Congolese government forces, contrary to repeated rumors.
"I want to end the speculation that Angolan troops are fighting side by side with Congolese troops ... that is not the case," the former Nigerian president said.
CONGO AND RWANDA TO COOPERATE
The origins of the North Kivu conflict can be traced back to Rwanda's 1994 genocide of Tutsis by Hutus, which helped trigger the 1998-2003 war. Kinshasa accuses Rwanda of backing Nkunda, who says he is defending Congolese Tutsis from attacks by FDLR Rwandan Hutu rebels he says fight with the Congolese army. Continued...
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