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U.N. envoy makes fresh bid to broker Congo peace
Fri Nov 28, 2008 5:03pm EST
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By Joe Bavier
KINSHASA (Reuters) - A U.N. special envoy met Congo's president on Friday in a fresh attempt to negotiate peace with Tutsi rebels, but the warring sides seemed far apart on how to end their festering conflict in the country's east.
Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo met President Joseph Kabila on his second mission in two weeks to try to end fighting in Democratic Republic of Congo's North Kivu province where thousands of people are still fleeing fighting.
A ceasefire declared by Tutsi rebel General Laurent Nkunda has halted battles with government troops, but Nkunda's fighters have been attacking Congolese and Rwandan militia allies of the government, sending refugees fleeing east into Uganda.
Obasanjo, who met both Nkunda and Kabila almost two weeks ago, had pressed for direct talks to end violence since August that has driven more than 250,000 people from their homes.
But former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa, who accompanied Obasanjo on behalf of leaders in Africa's Great Lakes region, played down the prospect of direct talks soon.
"I think it would be very imprudent of him (Nkunda) to ask for direct talks at once. Dialogue doesn't start at the top," Mkapa told reporters after he and Obasanjo met Kabila.
"Everyone concedes now that really it's pointless to continue pursuing a military solution ... The next step is that we are meeting with Mr Nkunda tomorrow," Mkapa said.
Recent statements from both sides have dampened prospects of face-to-face talks between Nkunda and Kabila.
Kabila's government, which calls Nkunda's revolt an unlawful challenge against a democratically elected administration, insists that he should return to a peace pact he signed in January along with other eastern rebel and militia factions.
That deal is named "Amani" after the Swahili for "peace."
But Nkunda has rejected it as one-sided and wants direct talks on security and ethnic issues in the vast, mineral-rich former Belgian colony, which was devastated by a 1998-2003 war involving many of its neighbors.
Rebel spokesman Bertrand Bisimwa told Reuters on Friday that Nkunda's National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) movement was unhappy about the government's position.
"If ... confirmed, it means the government has closed all the doors," Bisimwa said. But he added the rebels would not immediately abandon the ceasefire if there were no direct talks.
"He (Nkunda) has said to President Olusegun Obasanjo that he is committed to the Amani program in principle. He has difficulties with the manner of its implementation," Mkapa said.
CEASEFIRE VIOLATIONS Continued...
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