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Thousands flee Congo clashes, Goma ceasefire holds
Wed Nov 5, 2008 3:32pm EST
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By Emmanuel Braun
KIWANJA, Congo (Reuters) - Thousands of civilians fled fighting in eastern Congo on Wednesday that shook a week-old ceasefire and plans were announced for a summit of Great Lakes leaders on Friday to try to end the conflict.
A second day of confused clashes at Kiwanja near Rutshuru, seized last week by General Laurent Nkunda's Tutsi rebels, raised fears of more fighting in the region near Rwanda.
Civilians streamed from Kiwanja to Rutshuru to escape what they said were attacks by pro-government Mai-Mai militiamen.
Machinegun fire and the thump of artillery could be heard. One elderly man walking with a cane wore a shirt covered in dried blood from a bullet wound. He said the Mai-Mai shot him.
Hundreds of civilians sheltered at a ruined primary school close to a U.N. peacekeepers' camp. Smoke rose from nearby.
A rebel spokesman accused Congolese government forces of breaking the ceasefire at Kiwanja, 70 km (45 miles) north of Goma, capital of the country's North Kivu province.
The North Kivu government army commander blamed Mai-Mai militia and said his own forces would respect the ceasefire.
Nkunda also said he was upholding the ceasefire he declared last week after halting his forces' advance toward Goma, where aid agencies are struggling to help some of an estimated million refugees displaced by two years of conflict in North Kivu.
"It's still being maintained," Nkunda told Reuters by telephone from his hilltop headquarters in North Kivu.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters in New York he would attend a Great Lakes summit on Friday in Kenya's capital Nairobi to address the crisis in eastern Congo.
Ban said he would meet Congolese President Joseph Kabila and Rwandan President Paul Kagame and would urge Kabila to speak with Nkunda and anyone else who could help end the crisis.
Congo and Rwanda have accused each other of supporting feuding rebel and militia groups in east Congo, whose conflict traces its origins back to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, Ban's newly nominated special envoy for east Congo, told Reuters he would meet both presidents in Nairobi to see how to end the violence.
"Do we need a stronger mandate or do we need a reassessment and redeployment to meet the challenges on the ground? ... the meeting I am having will clarify things a little bit," he said.
AID OPERATIONS SUSPENDED Continued...
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